Getting 'One' more chance

The Stampeders offensive starting line (left to right)-Jeff Pilon, Bobby Singh, John Comiskey, Jay...

The Stampeders offensive starting line (left to right)-Jeff Pilon, Bobby Singh, John Comiskey, Jay McNeil and Garrick Jones (JACK CUSANO/SUN MEDIA)

ERIC FRANCIS

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

More than a week before the first pre-season pass was thrown, Ted Hellard summarized his club's situation perfectly.

"We know our club will be judged on one thing this year -- how we do in the playoffs," said the Stamps president and CEO. "Unfortunately, we have 18 games to play before that and we can't do anything about that."

Entering year three of the Stamps' stunning rebirth under Hellard and Co., the fans that were oh-so-appreciative of local ownership are getting restless.

Again.

After two solid seasons punctuated by painful choke-jobs, fans need to believe there's something more than a division crown or second place finish out there for the fellas in Red and White.

Capable of beating any team in the league the last few years (outside of B.C., of course), the Stamps will now spend the entire season building game plans and momentum aimed at one thing -- post-season success.

Hellard admits it, the players admit it and so does head coach Tom Higgins, who made a rare funny when asked last month what his club's goal should be this year.

"Learn how to secure the football in playoff games," deadpanned the Stamps head coach.

Frittering away leads in each of the last two west semifinals with a total of 11 turnovers, the Stamps have certainly mastered the art of coming up short when it matters most.

Now, after two years of rebuilding with largely the same squad, it's time to complete the journey.

Despite starting the season with an all-rookie defensive line, anything less than a Grey Cup appearance will be considered a failure by those who pay the freight.

At the very least, the Stamps need a playoff win.

Knowing this, management has tried taking pressure off by instituting the 'One' team and marketing concept. Imploring players to stop touchdown dances and anything else that detracts from the team concept, the idea is a team of extremely talented individuals will finally overcome its playoff hurdles as a group.

Ironically, standing in their way in many people's eyes is the club's undisputed leader, Henry Burris.

Right or wrong, the talented quarterback is the man blamed for the club's playoff follies, leading many to believe this club will only go as far as he lets it.

The difference this year is the belief someone can actually back him up should things starts unravelling at key times. And that's where the real controversy is bound to start as early as, well, Week 2 or 3.

Although he has just two exhibition games to his credit in the last two years, NFL castoff Akili Smith has given fans and players hope that there may be an alternative to help carry the load. Many thought running back Joffrey Reynolds would be able to do that too, until he, too, authored post-season pratfalls of his own.

Tonight's season opener against Hamilton marks the return of Marc Boerigter and offensive co-ordinator George Cortez, as well as the debut of Canadian Ryan Thelwell, which certainly positions the Stamps to have more firepower than anyone, including their arch-nemesis from the coast. Whether their defence can pull its weight with three newcomers on the defensive line remains to be seen.

If not, expect to see plenty of shootouts along the way -- none more important than the one scheduled for Nov. 11 or 18, when the west semifinal and final kicks off.

On paper, this team is a Grey Cup contender.

This is the year the Stamps either fulfil that promise or thousands of skeptical season-ticket holders will make like the team and disappear at just the wrong time.


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