For the Ottawa Redblacks, Sunday’s Grey Cup is a second chance to be No. 1.
The Redblacks gave up a late touchdown to lose last year’s championship game 26-20 to the Edmonton Eskimos in Winnipeg. They are back again, this time facing the powerhouse Calgary Stampeders at BMO Field.
Ottawa defensive co-ordinator Mark Nelson says the mood is decidedly different this year.
“To be honest with you, last year we were just happy to be there,” he said after practice Friday. “I mean we’d been 2-16 the year before (as an expansion team) and that’s a long year.”
“We worked hard and it just seemed last year everything fell our way,” he added. “All the close games we won, or the vast majority of them. Then we got the playoff game at home and we kind of got another miracle (via a late 93-yard TD reception by Greg Ellingson) on that. We won that. We were just so happy to be at the Grey Cup and enjoy it.
“Of course we wanted to win and all that. But it’s a lot different feeling this year. We’ve struggled all year. We’re 8-9-1. We were not favoured in the ( CFL Eastern final) and we came through that. It’s a different attitude with these guys this year. They’ve come here to win.”
Centre Jon Gott agreed the season was a struggle.
“We had our ups and then we had some downs. It was a different season … at the end of the year, we came together and we got here. So that’s all that matters.”
Coach Rick Campbell recalled how the team felt in the locker-room after last year’s Cup loss.
“After you come a minute or two away from a Grey Cup and you don’t get it done, that feeling if you ever get back again, you want to make sure you leave no stone unturned and you do everything you can to give yourself a shot at winning it. I think our guys have been doing that this week.”
Campbell said having been at the championship game last year has helped his team.
“It certainly doesn’t hurt … we have a whole group of coaches and players that are used to it,” he said. “They know what it’s like, they kind of understand the schedule and all the things that happen at the Grey Cup.”
The Redblacks were loosey-goosey at practice Friday under a bubble at an east-end high school. Juron Criner brought the house down, twisting his body in the air to make a marvellous one-handed catch while being defended by Forrest Hightower.
All three of Ottawa’s kickers were practising, including Chris Milo who has been sidelined by injury recently. Ray Early and Zach Medeiros have been handling kicking duties in his absence.
“I’m totally comfortable with Ray Early,” said Campbell. “He keeps getting better and better as he gets more reps. So he’s totally good to go. But we’ll check on Chris and see how he is this afternoon. We’ll definitely have a decision 100 per cent by (Saturday).”
Campbell was the runner-up for coach of the year at Thursday night’s CFL awards. Redblacks Earnest Jackson (outstanding player), Gott (lineman) and offensive lineman Jason Lauzon-Sequin (rookie) also lost out.
“I want one prize and that’s the Grey Cup,” said Gott. “I didn’t win (Thursday) night and that’s fine but I want that Grey Cup.”
Nelson says the awards snub might serve as “maybe a little bit” of a motivation. Not that Ottawa needs any more.
“Everyone’s already told us Calgary’s the best team and we’re not even the second-best team. They’re competitive, they’re pro athletes,” he said of the Redblacks. “They’re very proud of what they do and rightfully so.
“The neat thing about it is that they get to go prove something on Sunday. I know whatever happens, I know our guys are going to play their butt off and play hard and do a lot of good things. We’ll just let the chips fall where they fall.”