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June 14, 2019

A THING OF THE PAST

Eyes front, retinas boring into that ribbon of road unravelling out into the horizon, advises Bo Levi Mitchell.

No quick shoulder checks. And the taking of even a surreptitious, comforting peek in that rear-view mirror back to the confetti-and-champagne glory of Nov. 25th?

Well, don’t even go there.

“It’s kinda funny. I know we’re doing some kind of Grey Cup thing before the game starts,’’ replied the reigning CFL MOP when asked about inevitable Title Rematch tag-line accompanying his Calgary Stampeders and Ottawa Redblacks into Saturday’s late-matinee 2019 season opener.

“But their team is so different.

“And our back half is so different.

“So it’s kinda like three-quarters of the people doing it don’t even care that much.

“What happened last season? I’d rather forget about it and move on. We’ve got our memories, our rings and all that.

“Right now it’s time to go out and win Game One.”

Both sporting long-list of cast changes, the Stampeders and Redblacks collide at McMahon Stadium, looking to get off on the right foot.

“For me, it doesn’t feel that way, really,’’ confessed Calgary boss Dave Dickenson of the title-rematch angle. “When you get a lot of change, a lot of new players, don’t fall into that trap of just assuming you’re going to be good.

“We know we have to earn everything.”

Saturday, there’ll be 11 alterations from the Calgary group that started the 106th Grey Cup tilt at Edmonton in late November – seven of those on defence.

“A lot of new pieces, true,’’ agrees one of the stalwart returnees, DB Jamar Wall. “But the holdovers here are mature enough and professional enough that we’re not going to allow any slippage to occur.

“We have enough new guys that, hey, the vets can rub off on them; tell them, show them: This is the way we do things. When you’re on this team, you’re always treated like a 10-year man. Because you’re expected to do things the way we all do.

“There’s a certain standard in place. For everyone. Whether you’re 21-year-old Fraser Sopik or me or Smitty or whoever, you’re held up to it. We expect you to go as hard as you can on every single play. And our guys buy into that. That why they’re here.

“We know what works.

“That’s the reason we’ve been to three Grey Cups in a row and we’ll be in contention to do it again this season.

“Because of that standard I mentioned. If you’re here, you’re expected to live by it.”

Repeating as champions is, history shows, something of a tricky business. Only one team – the Montreal Alouettes of 2009 and 2010 – have managed back-to-back titles over the past two decades.

Which brings us to that dreaded ‘Grey Cup hangover’ cliché that’s inevitably a subject of discussion for any team aiming to repeat.

“A hangover?’’ Offensive left tackle Derrick Dennis waved a meaty paw in abject dismissal. “Naw. We’ve still got a lot of very good players who’ve won multiple championships in that room. I mean, this team won a Cup in ’14, was in the West final in ’15 and then three championship-game appearances in a row.

“So I don’t think there’s too much concern about any kind of hangover around here. We understand what you did last year doesn’t mean nuthin’ this year.

“Of course you’ve got to worry about the new guys coming into the program – and there’s a few of them – maybe having a sense of entitlement, because they’re aware the team has a habit, a tradition, of winning.

“That doesn’t mean anything, won’t get you anywhere.

“What has kept us at or near the top is because we understand what it takes to be a successful, and that’s hard work, attention to detail and playing for each other.”

So the dawn of a new season, and the beginning of something approaching a revamped era, gets underway Saturday at 5 p.m.

“You do put a lot of importance on that first game,’’ acknowledged Dickenson. “You want to get off to a good start.

“I’m not sure it’s going to set your season up, one way the other. I mean, in 2016 we lost (the opener) to Wally’s boys and had 15 wins.

“Ultimately, though, let’s get one in the books and see what we’ve got.

“It’s such a new team. Who’s going to make plays? We need to see what our team’s all about and these guys need to show me that they’re the right guys, they can do the job and we can keep winning.”