Stamps leading the way

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

It should be a classroom course.

Calgary Stampeders 101.

The Edmonton Eskimos should be making a serious study of the southern squad this season.

They're the forerunners.

Two years ago the Stampeders were 10-8. They brought in a new head coach in John Hufnagel and won the Grey Cup. And this year Calgary plays host to the Grey Cup game in McMahon Stadium.

Last year the Eskimos were 10-8. They brought in a new head coach in Richie Hall believing they could compete for the Grey Cup. And next year Edmonton plays host to the Grey Cup game in Commonwealth Stadium.

A LOT TO LEARN

There's going to be a lot to learn, one way or the other, on the way to a possible meeting in the Western Conference final where Edmonton holds out hope of the Eskimos moving into the Stampeders dressing room to win a third of four Grey Cups in Calgary. And whatever happens, the Eskimos are going to have to deal with a great deal of this next year.

Much later in the season they need to take note of how the noose tightens around the neck of this Stampeders' squad which appears to be coming out of the Grey Cup hangover stage of their quest and hasn't seemingly identified the pressure which builds and builds and builds, whether they want to believe it or not, on the way to the home Grey Cup game.

I don't get it with the way the Stampeders are approaching what's involved here. They have a chance to make modern-day Canadian Football League history and it really hasn't been a theme-for-the-dream, chance-of-a-lifetime, greater-glory-story sort of focus.

The Grey Cup became the Grey Cup in 1948 when all those rootin', tootin' Calgarians climbed on a train to Toronto and turned the game into an event.

The year before, in 1947, the Toronto Argos became the last team to successfully defend a Grey Cup title on their own turf. And that comes with an asterisk because the Grey Cup was held in Toronto every year back then.

For Henry Burris and the Stampeders to do it this year would be a remarkable accomplishment.

But it's like the subject is verboten around the team judging from the way the coach and quarterback danced around it when the bus pulled into Commonwealth Stadium yesterday for the first of what could be five meetings this year should they meet in the playoffs.

Certainly there are the negatives involved. No team has won back-to-back Grey Cups since Doug Flutie and the Argos did it in 1996-97. And you had to go back to the five-in-a-row Eskimos before that from 1978 to 1982. And as for host teams getting to and/or winning the event, it's a long, long list of broken dreams and sorry stories.

Coach Hufnagel talked to his team about it once at the start of the season, made the challenges involved very clear, and hasn't brought it up once since.

With the Stampeders struggling to the same 3-3 record as the Eskimos with nowhere near the same degree of difficulty in terms of opposition, this is a team which would probably be worthy of more extensive study already if this were not the fifth straight season they opened with a 3-3 record.

The Stamps have 37 players back from the 46 who were on the Grey Cup roster including all 12 starters on offence.

But there are six new starters on defence.

"We're making progress. We're still not there yet," said Coach of the Year Hufnagel who watched his Stamps lose twice to the Eskimos before turning their season on the Labour Day do-over game here last year.

PRIMARY PROBLEM

Penalties are being pointed to as the primary problem.

"Penalties are up league-wide this year but that doesn't give us any excuse for leading the league," said the normally quoteless coach.

Burris at least admits to the Grey Cup hangover.

"For the first couple it was there. It felt like we got rid of that," he said.

But he said the 44-9 win over Toronto and 48-10 win over B.C. brought the "shine a light on us" thing back and resulted in Saskatchewan "slapping it out of us."

He said it's good to have three of the next four against the Eskimos because Edmonton-Calgary provides its own focus. But as for the pressure to repeat and get to that 97th Grey Cup game, nothing.

"I don't feel anything other than being successful the way we should be. I really don't."

It's August. Wait a while.

And Eskimos, pay attention.


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