It’s November in Alberta, yet tackle Derek Dennis will wear a short-sleeved shirt Sunday when the Calgary Stampeders face the Ottawa Redblacks in the Grey Cup.
Thanks to Mother Nature, the burly offensive lineman won’t be alone.
The forecast is calling for a high of zero Celsius and a relatively balmy minus-1C for kickoff. It will be mainly sunny with light winds and a 10-per-cent chance of precipitation.
In other words, ideal conditions for the six-foot-three, 345-pound Dennis, the CFL’s top lineman in 2016 when he made his first Grey Cup appearance with Calgary.
“I was here for the 2016 West final and I can’t remember what the temperature was, but it was cold,” Dennis said following Calgary’s final walkthrough of the season. “I always wear a short-sleeved shirt regardless of the weather, but you know this here is nice.”
Jon Gott clearly agreed. The colourful Ottawa offensive lineman, who chugged a beer in the Redblacks’ regular-season finale, participated in the club’s walkthrough in shorts.
Dennis and his linemates are obviously ready. Following Saturday’s walkthrough, they participated in a game of bocce on the Commonwealth Stadium turf.
“It’s our tradition,” Dennis said.
This will mark the second Grey Cup meeting between these teams in three years. In 2016, the 8-9-1 Redblacks earned a stunning 39-36 overtime victory over 15-2-1 Calgary in Toronto.
Dennis feels he might’ve jinxed the Stampeders when he touched the Grey Cup prior to that game. This past week, Dennis made sure Calgary rookies kept their distance from the hallowed trophy.
“It was my first professional championship game and I didn’t know it was frowned up,” Dennis said. “I was standing around it and someone said, ‘Do what you want,’ which was the wrong thing to say.
“So I’ve tried to be that veteran to lead the way for the young guys. Hopefully we can win it and get our chance to hold it.”
Saturday’s walkthrough was Calgary’s second session at Commonwealth, while Ottawa’s workout Saturday was its first here. Despite Stampeders receiver Markeith Ambles suffering an injury Friday — he won’t play Sunday after being stepped on — head coach Dave Dickenson felt it was good to get into the stadium and get a feel for the playing surface before Sunday’s game.
“I won’t say it’s the greatest chess move in the world, but I think it’s something we’ve done differently,” Dickenson said. “It’s just still a football game. You’ve got to go out there and outplay the other team and make more plays.”
A sellout gathering of roughly 55,000 will see the top teams in each division square off. Calgary finished atop the West with a league-best 13-5 record, while Ottawa was first in the East at 11-7.
Canadian pop star Alessia Cara will provide the halftime entertainment. The Grammy-winning artist from Brampton has a list of hits that includes Here, Scars to Your Beautiful, Stay and Wild Things.
Mayors Jim Watson of Ottawa and Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi have a friendly wager on the game. The losing mayor will wear the opposing team’s jersey in council and fly its flag. The two also agreed to donate $3 per point scored by the winning team to that city’s food bank.
Sunday’s game caps a busy week for Grey Cup organizers, who staged numerous indoor and outdoor events, including the Grey Cup parade Saturday. This week is expected to bring a boost of up to $100 million to the local economy.
The weather should set up for an enticing matchup between Ottawa’s high-powered offence and a Calgary defence that was the CFL’s stingiest.
Trevor Harris threw a playoff-record six TD passes in Ottawa’s 46-27 East Division final win last weekend against Hamilton. Harris finished 29 of 32 for 367 yards in leading the Redblacks to a fourth straight victory this season versus the Tiger-Cats.
Harris was a stellar 99-of-129 passing (76.7 per cent) for 1,203 yards with 10 TDs and no interceptions versus Hamilton this season.
Brad Sinopoli anchors a stellar Ottawa receiving corps. The CFL’s top Canadian this season had a league-high 116 catches — a single-season record for a Canuck — for 1,376 yards and four TDs. Greg Ellingson (91 catches, 1,086 yards, five TDs) and Diontae Spencer (81 catches, 1,007 yards, seven TDs) also cracked the 1,000-yard mark.
Last weekend, Ellingson had eight catches for 144 yards and a TD.
Ottawa’s offence also boasts William Powell, the CFL’s second-leading rusher with 1,362 yards and six TDs. The five-foot-nine, 207-pound Powell ran for 86 yards on 21 carries (4.1-yard average) last weekend.
Ottawa allowed 43 sacks, second-most in the CFL, during the regular season but kept Hamilton’s defence off Harris.
Calgary’s defence led the CFL in fewest offensive points allowed (17.8 per game), offensive touchdowns (27), passing TDs (11), was tied for most sacks (45) and second in fewest offensive yards allowed (321.4).
In Calgary’s 22-14 West Division final win, the unit held Winnipeg to 294 offensive yards. Bombers starter Matt Nichols was just 15 of 32 for 156 yards and sacked three times.
Calgary’s offence is definitely in good hands. Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who threw a CFL-high 35 TDs this season, was named the league’s outstanding player for a second time this past week.
Calgary swept the two-game season series with Ottawa, but the teams haven’t met since the Stampeders’ 27-3 road win July 12.
Calgary has 27 players on its roster who played in the 2016 Grey Cup, while Ottawa still has 13 players from its last championship squad, including cornerback Jonathan Rose. He will start Sunday after appealing the one-game suspension he received from the CFL for contact with official Jocelyn Paul in the East final. Paul will work as the side judge Sunday, his third Grey Cup.