Saturday’s game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats is as much a test of coping skills as it is football acumen.
Both teams have had a lot to deal with this week, albeit for very different reasons.
Ticats head coach Kent Austin was at centre of controversy for much of the week after he made inadvertent contact with an on-field official during his team’s loss in Saskatchewan last Saturday. The CFL’s investigation lasted three days – there was speculation he could be suspended – and ultimately resulted in $10,000 fine and his removal from the sidelines against Calgary.
As a result, he’ll be in the coach’s booth at the very top of Tim Hortons Field, using a headset to call plays and make crucial in-game decisions which, will be relayed through defensive coordinator and assistant head coach Orlondo Steinauer.
“I’ll have communication with the quarterbacks and the sidelines just like I always do,” Austin said. “The only difference is where I’m at. Everything else in terms of my responsibilities will be the same.”
Austin’s antics and subsequent punishment – there are plenty of pundits who would put quotation marks around that term – have been a distraction for the Ticats this week, something the head coach acknowledged.
“Yes – I’d be lying if i said it wasn’t. But I haven’t talked to the team about it except quickly before the decision came out,” Austin said. “The team is going to be fine and the sideline is going to be great with Orlondo. But from a personal standpoint, it’s not great. But we’ll get through it, get over it and be better for it.”
And despite those challenges, Austin has had a better week than every member of the Calgary Stampeders.
They are reeling from the death of reserve defensive back Mylan Hicks who was shot and killed outside a Calgary nightclub last Saturday. He was 23-years-old.
“I feel like this is going to show a lot for us as a team with this type of tragedy. Are we still going to be focused?” said veteran defensive back Jamar Wall, who will wear Hicks’ No. 31 on Saturday. “This is one excuse they might give us, but we don’t want it.
“We still think we have to come out here and prepare like we’re supposed to and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Calgary has been the league’s best team this season, unbeaten in twelve straight games. They have the CFL’s top scoring offensive unit, the stingiest defence, one of the game’s best quarterbacks in Bo Levi Mitchell and the top kicking duo.
“They don’t make mistakes – that’s the most unique thing about them,” said Hamilton defensive back Dominque Ellis. “It’s ridiculous: they’re extremely sound. It’s not that they do anything bigger or better than other teams, they are just extremely efficient.”
The Ticats, meanwhile, are coming off a last-second loss to the CFL’s worst team and have now dropped two of their last three games. At 6-7, they are still second in the East and well within range of the division lead – but also perilously close to falling out of a playoff spot.
For the fourth straight week, they will roll out a new-look secondary with Johnny Adams – who was acquired via trade on Wednesday at practiced once this week – starting at the field corner with Brandon Sermons getting his first-ever start at the key strong side linebacker spot. Running back C.J. Gable and receiver Luke Tasker are still missing due to injury.
Those challenges are meaningless when compared to what the Stampeders and the Hicks family are enduring. But in a football context, against a team as formidable as Calgary, they are significant.