The Canadiens, Oilers, Eskimos, Cowboys, Bulls, Celtics, and Yankees all come to mind when discussing sporting dynasties.
The Calgary Stampeders would love to be included in this list but following back-to-back Grey Cup losses are they more suitable company for the Bears, Braves, and Blazers; great teams that could never quite close the deal? They have escaped the ignominy of the Bills who lost four straight Super Bowl’s by winning in 2014, but remain firmly in the category of the “Almost Dynasty”.
The most recent championship game loss typified what an almost dynasty requires. A dynamite regular season negated by a magnificent play that will stand out in championship lore. Two such plays occurred on Grey Cup Sunday that left the Stampeders cursing the fates, wondering what the future may hold for a team that has reached the mountaintop just twice in the last nine years despite being the class of the league over that time period.
Every June, the question gets asked: has John Hufnagel once again stemmed the tide that erodes all franchises eventually? A combination of: talent finding other teams that are willing to pay for a small piece of the Stampeders success, the lure of the NFL and the financial windfall that can provide, and the march of time that sees great players fall victim to bodies unable to go where the minds will let them any longer, means dynasty building is harder than ever.
This off-season saw the departures of Charleston Hughes, Jerome Messam, Tommie Campbell and Shaquille Richardson. Dan Federkeil and Rob Cote retired. Marquay McDaniel eventually retired as well following his release from the team. However, over the last few years Calgary has seen the losses of big name players like Stanley Bryant, Brad Sinopoli, and Derek Dennis to other teams. Frank Beltre, Brett Jones and Eric Rogers all went south of the border to ply their trade in the NFL. The greatest Canadian player of his generation, Jon Cornish, was sent to early retirement following a concussion. Dennis and Rogers both rejoined the Stamps this off-season.
And yet, the Stampeders won. They won 28 regular season games over the last two seasons. One could argue the number would have been higher had they not clinched the division title so soon. Three of their six losses came when the results no longer mattered, the division title and the free playoff cheque that comes with it in their pockets needing only to wonder who would come into McMahon to try and stop this juggernaut.
But in the wake of another gut-wrenching loss there have been cries of discontent from a spoiled fan base who seems to have lost touch with what is normal in the CFL. The Stampeders have been good for so long that any season that doesn’t end with a championship is wasted. Fans on Twitter suggested that they didn’t renew their tickets in the wake of another “choke”.
Calgary fan message boards suggesting that Hufnagel, Dickenson, or both should have been fired for not being able to add another ring to their own personal legacy; as though it was the GM who fumbled the ball deep in Argo territory or the coach himself who saw double coverage and forced a throw which sealed the team’s fate.
Of course, had the higher-ups at the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation heeded the advice of the disappointed and misguided fan, there wouldn’t be a single franchise in the CFL that wouldn’t consider either of these two men an upgrade over what they have currently.
A CFL executive told me during Grey Cup week that the only team that matters is Calgary when it comes to building team; that Calgary is the only franchise model that CFL teams should emulate. Recent success or failure in a single game, albeit a championship one, does not change that fact.
The good news began for Stamps fans in December as defensive coordinator DeVone Claybrooks announced he would be returning for another season.
Outside of the names above, the Stamps are returning most of the squad from last years Grey Cup contender. Bo Levi Mitchell will have the most talented group of receivers he has had. The return of Eric Rogers from the NFL adds to a very dangerous group that already featured 2017 breakouts Kamar Jorden, Marken Michel, and former rookie of the year Davaris Daniels. The Stamps are expecting to play four internationals at receiver with Lemar Durant and Juwan Brescacin splitting time as the National option.
Terry Williams will assume the starters role in the backfield. Williams has showed out in the preseason as both a running back and returner, although expect to see the return duties assigned to someone else. Coach Dave Dickenson has said he isn’t interested in having his primary running back double as a returner as it puts too much at risk of being bitten by the injury bug.
For the last 10 years the Stampeders have finished no worse than tied for second in overall record and have just two championships to show for it. Winning the Grey Cup this season would go a long way to avoid the company of the Braves, Blazers, and Bears.