EDMONTON - It was a one-stop shop at Jim Popp.
Being that the Montreal Alouettes had been virtually ignored to this point of Grey Cup proceedings, the idea was to canvas the club about the idea of going from repeated failure to failure to failure to suddenly having a chance to become an all-time team.
After all these years of fumbling and bumbling in their humbling history at the Grey Cup, the Alouettes finally have a chance to become the first team since Doug Flutie and the Toronto Argos in 1996-97 and the second since the five-in-a-row Edmonton Eskimos from 1978-82, to win back-to-back Grey Cups.
First stop, Popp, the general manager who has been constructing Montreal teams dating back to 1996.
It’s not, he swears, a burning theme for the dream, said Popp as the Alouettes enjoyed lunch with the media Thursday. It’s not something that he hears players talking about.
“You have to remember that a large number of the players on this team have only been here three years. They’ve been to the Grey Cup every year. They’re all 1-1.
“They have a chance to write their own legacy.”
People forget some stuff, he said. Like the stuff which happened in the four years before the Als made it to the Grey Cup in 1990.
“We made it to four division championships and lost all four — in 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999. And we lost those games in some crazy ways. Then we started getting to the Grey Cup and we lost those in some crazy ways with two-point converts and double overtimes,” he said, not having to go through the litany of losing in five of seven previous appearances.
And the wins weren’t critiqued as being statements of their greatness. Here in 2002, for example, there was Eskimo coach Tom Higgins and his fake-punt gamble which blew up big time in a game. The Eskimos had a 25-7 edge in first downs in the 1997 Grey Cup and lost 25-16.
And then there was the too-many-men penalty by the Roughriders on the last play last year when they had the game won.
“I wish the field goal was made n the first try, then the Roughriders wouldn’t have had to hear about it ever since,” he said of the penalty which gave Damon Duval a do-over to make it good and win the game.
The bottom line, he says, is that the Als have lost a lot of games in crazy ways and won a couple. “And now we have this.”
And what is “this,” then?
“Whatever the perception from the outside is, when you’re inside you understand we’ve accomplished what no other team has accomplished in a long time.”
And he’s right. Not since the Eskimos went to nine Grey Cups in a span of 10 years from 1973 to 1982 has there been a run to compare. Indeed, the Als are the first team to make it to the show for three in a row since then. But there’s the knock that they’ve done it out of the East.
And in the CFL, the East has been least for their entire run.
“People don’t look at the facts,” said the one man who has been there for the entire run through various owners, presidents, coaches and players.
“The facts are that we’ve had a winning record against every team in the league over the last 15 years.
And if you take Ottawa out of the equation and throw away our 11 wins against them, there’s a 12-win difference between our wins against teams in the West and teams in the East. And we play more games against the teams from the East. Our winning percentage is almost identical against teams from the East and the West.
“We’ve heard comparisons to the Buffalo Bills,” he said of the only team to play in four straight Super Bowls, a team which lost them all.
“Is that why Marv Levy is so respected or why so many members of that team are in the Hall of Fame? A lot of our players are going to end up in the Hall of Fame.
“People used to compare us to the Atlanta Braves. But now we’ve won two. Now we don’t hear about being the Atlanta Braves any more.
“There’s another fact that nobody mentions. We’ve been to eight Grey Cups. Seven of them have been in the West. We’ve won two in Alberta. I like the fact we’re in Alberta.”
In the end Popp said he know two-in-a-row would make so much of this go away.
“It’s like John Elway. Nothing. Nothing. Then he won two in a row and it all went away. He never heard it again.
“All I know is that this team had a big monkey on its back going into the Grey Cup last year and that monkey isn’t there any more.”
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