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September 2, 2018

REVEL IN THE RIVALRY

Shut his eyes tight, allow thoughts to drift back in time and Brandon Smith can still see the pride of Happy Camp, Calif., hanging resolutely in the pocket, zeroing in on one receiver, remembers waiting in the weeds, then breaking for the ball and the ensuing hand-fight for possession.

“You know, to be honest, my first Labour Day game, 2008, I really can’t recall much about it other than I played in it,’’ confesses the longest-serving Calgary Stampeder. “Second year, I hurt my knee (in pre-season) and didn’t play.

“But I made my first CFL interception on Labour Day, 2010. Took it back for a touchdown, too. Fifty-something yards, I think.

“That I remember, obviously.

“Had two (picks) that game, actually.

“On the touchdown, it was an out route or a curl route and Ricky was throwing the ball to Kelly Campbell, I believe – I know, Kelly Campbell … showing my age, right?

“I jumped it but he kinda caught it, the two of us were jockeying for it, the ball popped up and I was able to double-catch it, turn the other way and go.”

Smith’s electrifying 52-yard Pick 6 highlighted a massive third quarter for the Stamps that afternoon en route to a comprehensive 52-5 beatdown of the Eskimos. In short order, they swept that year’s Labour Day week twin-bill by trimming Edmonton 36-20 in the Commonwealth Stadium rematch.

Fast forward eight years and the 8-1 current edition are riding a six-game Labour Day win streak as they host the 6-4 northerners Monday, 1 p.m., at McMahon Stadium with the aim of creating even more distance atop the West Division standings.

“People say the season starts on Labour Day,’’ scoffs Smith. “To me, the season starts when it kicks off. Training camp and after that, Week One. That being said, I do agree that once Labour Day, pretty much the mid-point of the season, kicks in, teams and players really see which way their season is going.

“Our goal is always same: Win the day, win the game, win the week. That’s our philosophy. We don’t get ahead of ourselves, thinking ‘What if …?’ we win this game or that game. Regardless of the situation or the opponent, we prepare the same way.”

Still, the very sight of green-and-gold in fashion combination is, admittedly, enough to get the just-turned 34-year-old DB’s dander up.

“Rivalry games,’’ says Smith, “are always fun. Doesn’t matter who you are or how long you’ve played. If you’re a competitor, you’re going to vibe with your teammates, right? So if I’m new to a rivalry, a rookie, say, we’re going into a fight and my teammates are fired up, I’m going to be fired up, too.

“That’s the way we’re bred to compete at this level. The mindset is: If the guy beside me has a problem with them, then I have a problem with them, too. Automatically. You don’t need a reason.

“When I was at Sac(ramento) State we had the Causeway Classic against UC Davis. There’s a bridge separating the two cities. So it was very similar to us against Edmonton. Here it’s an across-the-province rivalry, there it was an across-the-bridge rivalry.

“All the guys really got pumped up for those games. One of those If-You’re-Juices-Aren’t-Flowing-Maybe-You-Should-Check-Your-Pulse deals.

“Same as here, Labour Day week, and these two teams.

“You always remember when you do something special on Labour Day.”

Especially something as special as 2010.

“Oh yeah, that first interception felt good,’’ Smith coos, grinning at the recollection. “Good to finally get my hands on the ball. Then, as I said, I got my hands on it again later in the game.

“And you know what? I had two more interceptions in the rematch up in Edmonton. Yep. Four in a week.

“Sure would be nice if I could do that again this week.”