HAMILTON -- In Casey Printers' mind, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were just a few players away from winning when they cut him loose.
So the quarterback, who returns to Ivor Wynne Stadium this afternoon with the B.C. Lions for the East Division semifinal, isn't stunned that the Ticats are back in the playoffs for the first time in five years.
"I always said, even last year, that this team was close and they needed a couple of more pieces and they were going to turn it around," Printers said yesterday. "Everything is falling into place. I am happy for these guys."
Of course, there will be some who say that Printers had to go before the Ticats could claw their way to respectability. He signed a monster contract with Hamilton in September of 2007 but was released this past February after nothing but frustration in black and gold. Now, suddenly, the Ticats have to worry about him again, only in different circumstances.
"It's his big-play capability that we have to be aware of," Tiger-Cats head coach Marcel Bellefeuille said. "He's a strong-armed quarterback. He can make those throws going deep down the field.
"We have to keep him in the pocket the best we can because when he gets out there, he's dangerous."
Printers made it clear that if the Ticats had the right receivers, he would have been just fine. Maybe he would be the guy today trying to find all-star Arland Bruce instead of Hamilton quarterback Kevin Glenn.
"We didn't have the personnel, we had a coaching change in the middle of the year," Printers, who re-joined the Lions in September, said. "You can't win with stuff like that going on. It's too hard. This league is too competitive and the coaching is too good."
Printers expected to be booed roundly, and he probably will be. But the game is about more than just Printers' return.
Ticats linebackers Jamall Johnson, Otis Floyd and Markeith Knowlton won a Grey Cup with B.C. in 2006; Lions general manager/coach Wally Buono and Ticats GM Bob O'Billovich worked for the Lions together for several years.
Then there's Ticats receiver Dave Stala, who played just two games with the Montreal Alouettes in the previous two seasons before signing with his hometown club in April. Stala suffered three different breaks in the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot, and when he trots on the gridiron today, the pain will be gone, but a screw remains to help keep the bone together.
"I was telling my girlfriend the other day that I remember walking around the stadium during games when I was a kid," said Stala, who was born in Poland and moved to Steeltown when he was 8 years old. "I feel great to come back home and help bring a playoff game to Hamilton. I know what it means to the fans and the city.
"I'm 29 now and I love the sport. (When he missed so many games with the foot injury), I didn't want to give up. Everything has been great so far."