November 21, 2018

“A One-Game Shootout”

CALGARY, AB - MAY 19, 2018: The 2018 edition of Jr. Stamps Camp, presented by New West Trucks and led by Stampeders rookies, was held at McMahon Stadium on Saturday. The event helps raise funds for amateur football and awareness for KidSport. (Photo by Angela Burger/Calgary Stampeders)

EDMONTON – John Hufnagel won’t play the coy card or tap-dance frantically around the issue.

“Personally, talking for myself, it would be sweet,” confesses the Stampeders’ general manager of Sunday’s date with destiny at Commonwealth Stadium in the 106th Grey Cup. “Very, very sweet.

“It would be so good for our players to go out there and get it done.

“In 2014, when we played Hamilton, remember, we’d been the favourites two years before and lost. So, with that in our minds, we had the intention of going out and finishing 2014 off the right way.

“We did.

“Hopefully we can do it again.”

As much as Micah Johnson might scream to the skies after sacking a QB, or Bo Levi Mitchell punch the air to celebrate a TD toss, you can bet large that the tall gent prowling restlessly inside the Visiting Team press-box bunker at Commonwealth Stadium on Sunday when they face the Ottawa Redblacks will be every bit as wholly invested as any of ’em.

“Huff,” says Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson, “is an extremely competitive guy.”

Must be the old quarterback in him.

Since becoming the uber-power broker at McMahon Stadium in 2008, as both GM/coach and then just manager, he has piloted the Stampeders to a regular-season run of 143-52-2, encompassing seven West Division titles and now six Grey Cup appearances, along with two championships, and counting.

Through shifts in personnel, the rise and fall of other franchises, Hufnagel and the team’s brain trust have remained unparalleled in re-setting, refreshing and refurbishing, rather than rebooting.

They always stay relevant.

This off-season, whether through necessity or by choice, they only replaced the franchise’s co-all-time leading QB bounty hunter, an all-star corner, their go-to slotback, the defensive secondary linchpin, the CFL’s back-to-back rushing leader and its reigning Special Teams Player of the Year.

And still the Stamps went 13-5, best in the loop, mixing, among others, Emanuel Davis, Don Jackson, Chris Williams, Bakari Grant, Tre Roberson and Markeith Ambles into the mix.

And still they’re here, once again, awaiting the music at the big dance.

“Throughout any season,’’ Hufnagel reasons, “the challenges change.

“Coming out of training camp this year we wanted to make sure we found a boundary corner, people that could run the football and we hoped that the guys we drafted were good players and could contribute.

“We felt we’d addressed those issues.

“Then as the season progressed, obviously everything slanted to our receivers. We had a lot of depth at the position and in a four-game span it … evaporated. But we managed to make do.

“We also had the change in the backfield coaching position with Josh Bell, making the switch from being a player. But I was very, very confident when Dave hired Josh and he definitely has not been a disappointment.”

The Hufnagel Influence, of course, is everywhere.

“For me, a lot of the groundwork was laid by Huff and Wally Buono,’’ said Dickenson during Wednesday’s 8:30 a.m. coaches conference at the Shaw Convention Centre. “Those are two guys you want to follow.

“I try to emulate, to try and do things similar to what they did. They’re winners. So it’s easy for me.”

There’ll be nothing rudimentary come Sunday.

The Redblacks certainly do pose a formidable obstacle and are, in Hufnagel’s mind, a far more complete entity than back in 2016 at BMO Field, when they fashioned an overtime upset.

They slapped the Hamilton Tiger Cats, a team led by the East representative for MOP Jeremiah Masoli,  absolutely silly, 46-27 – like Moe machine-gunning Larry in a Three Stooges routine.

“They have a better record now than when we played them for a reason: They’re a better football team,” cautions Hufnagel. “Plain and simple. And they’re playing lights-out right now.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to slow them down on Sunday. Hopefully our defence can stay on the field to keep their offence on the sideline.

“I liked the way our team worked towards the last two Grey Cups. I did. We felt confident. We respected our opponent. But it’s a one-game shootout. Anything can happen. On Sunday, we just have to go out play hard football, smart football, winning football.

“We didn’t play enough winning football the last two years, unfortunately.

“We hope to change that (Sunday).”