August 29, 2019

Preparation, Not Superstition

By assured, Brandon Smith isn’t one to be tossing a few grains of Sifto over his left shoulder after inadvertently dumping the contents of the salt shaker at home.

He isn’t big into amulets or rabbits feet. Some poor horse somewhere isn’t down to three shoes because he just happened to be passing by.

Wouldn’t dream of seeking out wishing wells or foraging the underbrush in search of four-leaf clovers. Why, he’d gladly – happily, joyously – sprint underneath a ladder to break up a pass attempt or make a pick.

The man believes in preparation, not superstition.

“Naw, I’m no good-luck charm,’’ scoffs the 12-year defensive back. “Labour Day Games are big games. Everyone wants to excel in big games.

“Why have we had success in them? Well, our coaching staff always does a good job of getting us fired up for that afternoon. And mostly because we’re well prepared.

“We have a good week before, usually a long week, so there’s a couple of extra days to get ready.”

Still, every first Monday in September, Smith is, in the parlance, money.

On that particular day, he owns a career batting average higher than Ty Cobb or Ted Williams.

The Calgary Stamps are 9-2 since the now-32-year-old defensive back arrived on scene from the Arena League’s San Jose SabreCats, although he was absent from the 2009 32-8 conquest (and the entire season, actually) after sustaining a training-camp knee injury, so his personal Labour Day record actually stands at a still-gossamer 8-2.

Strictly coincidence?

Don’t be daft.

Smith, SAM linebacker Jamar Wall, punter Rob Maver and placekicker Rene Paredes represent the remaining links to the current seven-on-the-trot Labour Day success run that began with a 31-30 squeaker in 2012 on a Kevin Glenn-to-Larry Taylor TD hook-up and walk-off-win field goal miss by the Eskimos.

Calgary will endeavour to push the streak to eight Monday, of course, and draw themselves alongside the Eskimos at six wins in the West Division standings while keeping the front-running Winnipeg Blue Bombers squarely in their sights.

Quite appropriately, the arc of Brandon Smith’s CFL career really began to trend upward on

“Double picks and a pick-6 that game,’’ he recalls softly, happily. “That’s what got everything going for me, interception-wise. Oh, man, I’ve played in a lot of games. And over the years I’ve learned you always put the past in the past. Move on to the game in front of you and look forward to that.

“Kinda like Al Bundy, right? Can’t live in the old glory days. You want to make new ones.

“But that game, 2010, I do remember.

“Kelly Campbell was the receiver on the Pick-6. Ricky Ray the quarterback. An out route. Got my hands on it, tipped it up, grabbed it and took off.

Fifty-eight yards later, he’d plunged another deceive nail in the Eskimos’ coffin. The Stamps would run riot that day, 52-5.

“When you’re first interception goes for a touchdown, against Edmonton on Labour Day,’’ jokes Smith, “well, that’s big.”

Around these parts, in the summer months, it doesn’t get much bigger.

As an encore up north four days after the touchstone performance, he’d pilfer two more Ray passes.

Since that breakout, Smith has, as everyone hereabouts knows, gone from strength to strength, collecting two more fancy rings (making him, along with Alondra Johnson and Mark McLoughlin, one of only three men to win three Grey Cups as a Stampeder), a CFL All Star spot in 2014 and a world of respect, both locally and around the country.

As the man himself said, he’s played in a lot of games.

Yet Labour Day, what it represents, both in immediate and historical terms, remains an annual high-water-mark.

Monday being no exception.

“Every year there are new guys here and us older guys have to let them know, get them to understand, the importance of this game,’’ Smith says.

“Usually doesn’t take long to get them up to speed.

“Provincial rivalry. All the history. The two teams always seem to be battling for something other than bragging rights. Mid-point, with the all-important second half of the season coming up.

“Then having the jets fly over the stadium just adds to the atmosphere.

“I mean, man, if that doesn’t get your blood boiling, your heart racing, I don’t know what will.”