CALGARY — From the opening kickoff, the Calgary Stampeders were never in sync this season.
The defending Grey Cup champs just couldn’t seem to find that magic formula to set everything in motion.
And that’s why they cleaned out their lockers Monday and will turn over the keys to the Saskatchewan Roughriders for Sunday’s Grey Cup.
“Not an easy year,” said head coach John Hufnagel. “We had to fight through some adversity, which I thought we did well at times, and then took a step back. We never had the consistency you’re looking for, striving for, especially towards the end of the season when it counts.”
Amidst all the excitement of going for back-to-back titles on McMahon Stadium turf, the Stampeders couldn’t build the well-oiled machine of the 2008 season.
They started with inconsistent offence — one first down in the opening quarter and a 17-0 deficit to the Montreal Alouettes en route to a 40-27 loss in the curtain raiser — and horrible defence and never recovered.
Then, just as it appeared things were going in the right direction in late July and had overcome the Grey Cup hangover, the club lost receiver Ken-Yon Rambo, last year’s CFL top catcher.
The winning streak never came.
“I can’t put a finger on it, or I would have corrected it. It’s the game of football,” Hufnagel said. “Each and every week it’s a different challenge and it’s a struggle. It’s hard to play at the top of your game each and every week. That’s why the better teams win games when they’re not at their top, but they win because they’re good football teams.
“We won this year, just didn’t win the last one, and unless you win the last game of the season, it’s not a successful season. That’s the nature of our sport.”
A 10-7-1 campaign is nothing to dismiss. Only the Alouettes cobbled together a better record.
Still, the Stamps never looked like championship material.
“We kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” said offensive lineman Jeff Pilon. “We’d have a good play and then wouldn’t capitalize on it. We’d find some way to end a drive.
“That seemed to be our Achilles heel all year.”
Should the Stampeders have been an unstoppable force? Not really.
Not with all the holes on the defence that took half the season to fill, and not with the offensive struggles.
Ultimately, something was always missing.
“The only team doing it the way everyone pictures a championship season is Montreal,” said lineman Randy Chevrier. “Everybody thinks the champion will be that undefeated juggernaut that will go on and blow everybody out of the water. Typically, it doesn’t happen that way. Typically, it’s a team that’s going up and down, struggling, building character and then peaking at the right time.
“For us, it just didn’t happen.”
Which begs the question whether it’ll happen next year.
“We’ll be a much better team,” stated quarterback Henry Burris. “You learn from these things. We learned from it a couple of years ago. We became a much better team from what we learned, and that’s what we have to do from this.
“We don’t want to experience this feeling next year.”
Maybe fans will see a little more hunger from the get-go, too.
“Whether you win or lose, you’re hungry,” Chevrier said. “I compete at every thing I do. Whether you’re coming off a win or loss, you’re itching. Unfortunately, we can’t compete for six months.”