Ahead of the game

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 3:30 PM ET

If somebody told the Calgary Stampeders' owners in January of 2005 how strong the franchise would be 21 months later, the group wouldn't have believed the messenger.

The Stamps have exceeded all expectations over the past two CFL seasons as winning became the norm and excitement around the team has grown accordingly.

When the new owners took over, they hoped where they are today but didn't expect it.

For the second straight season, the Stamps are post-season participants and have nearly finished a money-making campaign.

Following three losing seasons in which the playoffs were a dream, Calgary has come to expect more from the current club. Putting a competitive product on the field and filling McMahon Stadium will do that to people.

"People forget where this team was two years," said Stampeders president/owner Ted Hellard. "They were 4-14, losing money and only 10,000 people in the stands.

"We have solid crowds and are solid financially. We're a good enough team now that people get upset when we lose to the best team in the league. If you went back in time two years ago and said we'd be probably the second-best team in the league, people would have said, 'Yeah, right.'

"We still have a long way to go, though."

In 21 months, the Stamps have built themselves into a premium football product.

Quarterback Henry Burris was signed as a free agent and is growing into a A-list player at his position.

Running back Joffrey Reynolds has competed for the rushing title since arriving in Calgary and should garner consideration for the CFL's most outstanding player award this season. Sandro DeAngelis emerged as a clutch kicker and has hit on two, last-second game-winners this season.

At every other position, the Stamps have depth at most positions thanks to Tom Higgins, senior vice-president of football operations and head coach, GM Jim Barker and the rest of the veteran coaching staff.

"It's a good thing we have that kind of discussion now," Hellard said. "We're not talking about off-the-field stuff. It's all about football. The whole focus has shifted away from non-football entities. It means we're getting close because expectations are getting high. I would rather have unjustified high expectations than the alternative."

The Stamps have lost two straight games heading into the last home game of the season and, although defeats to B.C. and Toronto are frustrating, no one is hitting the panic button. The club has a chance to ride into the playoffs on a high by putting a couple of wins together.

In a 18-game season, there are plenty of ups and downs but the Stamps have experienced mostly highs lately.

"We're a team that's still young and growing," Hellard said. "Obviously we have ebbs and flows. If you look at a five-year plan and, in the big perspective, we're well ahead of where we expected to be.

"We know we're competitive now. Other than B.C., we compete well against every team in the league. Our next step is to compete with B.C., so we have an exciting challenge. Wally Buono went there in 2003 and that program is in its fourth year. Where we are compared to where they are after the same time tells me we're on the right track."


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