Alouettes can't get no respect

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:05 PM ET

MONTREAL — You can only beat the team standing on the other side of the line of scrimmage, so laugh if you want Western Canada.

But when Argos cornerback Byron Parker referred to the Montreal Alouettes as the “beasts of the East,” on the eve of the division final, the man had a point, relative as it might be.

The Als are heavily favoured to advance to the Grey Cup for a third consecutive November with a win over the Argos at Olympic Stadium on Sunday, which would be the latest triumph in a decade plus of dominance over the East.

Of course, winning that division in the current era hasn’t exactly inspired talk of a CFL dynasty given the recent dysfunction among its fellow members.

Hamilton and Toronto may both be teams in various degrees of improvement, but they haven’t been a consistent threat year-to-year and Winnipeg has even more work to do.

Then, for all their division titles, there has been the Alouettes dodgy record at the Grey Cup, last year being a notable exception. In fact, Montreal has won just once in their past five trips to the championship game.

That said, after a third consecutive division title under coach Marc Trestman, the Als have a proven formula that works, regardless of the competition.

“I don’t look at the success we’ve had over the last few years as my success, it’s the organization’s success,” Trestman said on Saturday after a quick team walk through at the Big O, where a crowd of 56,000 plus is expected on Sunday afternoon.

“The organization was quite successful a long time before I got here.”

Unlike some American coaches who move north with no CFL pedigree and a reluctance to learn the game, Trestman came with an open mind and a built-in mentor program in three-down football from then team president Larry Smith and general manager Jim Popp.

“I think the people outside of this locker room (do not appreciate) what we’ve done,” Montreal’s ageless quarterback Anthony Calvillo said. “They don’t realize how hard it is to win year in and year out. They don’t know how hard it is to win with new players. They don’t know how hard it is to win with the East so much improved with Toronto and Hamilton.

“I don’t think we get enough credit from the outside world.”

Calvillo has played for a handful of coaches, but has a special respect for Trestman’s ability to maintain the team’s status in the East.

“Marc has done a great job of transforming this team and this locker room,” Calvillo said. “Every year, we have had new guys and the new guys have bought into the tradition we have here. Right now we are in a good spot.”

Accordingly, Trestman has respect for the game here and said on Saturday that the competition has gotten stiffer since he arrived. That may sound like a gratuitous line the day before a division title was on the line, but the coach doesn’t seem the type to bother with those head games.

“There are a lot of smart coaches in this league,” Trestman said. “It’s a small league and teams have gotten better.”

The Argos will surely get a glimpse of Trestman’s smarts and creativity on Sunday when Calvillo likely will have the shackles off and be encouraged to open up the offence after keeping much of it in the closet since the team clinched first in the division weeks ago.

“They keep finding guys who fit into their system and they’ve pretty much been the team to beat the last three seasons,” Parker said. “It’s exactly what they are, the beasts of the East.”

Those beasts are a whopping 10-point favourites here, a status well earned despite the fact that the teams split their season series with two wins apiece.

Argos coach Jim Barker isn’t about to concede anything one game away from playing for a championship, but he has been around the CFL long enough to appreciate the template sculpted by Sunday’s opponent.

“They’ve been to the Grey Cup (four of the last five) years,” Barker said on Saturday. “The goal is to be where Montreal is.”

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca


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