‘I’m not going to use my [middle] fingers’: Bo Levi Mitchell believes he proved doubters wrong with comeback, feared Stampeders would ‘make a move’

Photo courtesy: Bob Butrym

In life, there are but two simple truths: haters gonna hate and Bo Levi Mitchell is going to let them know when they’re proven wrong.

The Calgary Stampeders’ star quarterback did so in rather spectacular fashion once again on Saturday night, leading a come-from-behind overtime victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. After the final whistle blew, Mitchell had a not-so-subtle message to members of the media.

“I’m not going to use my [middle] fingers but to the ones who have been talking trash, it’s nice to be back,” the two-time CFL MOP said post-game.

Coming off the worst season of his career in 2021, Mitchell’s future was the subject of much speculation. Plagued by injuries since 2019, the 32-year-old completed 64.9 percent of his passes for 2,594 yards with 10 touchdowns and a league-worst 13 interceptions during the CFL’s shortened campaign.

Despite rave reviews from training camp observers and promises of a return to health, Mitchell did little to dispel the rumours of his decline early in 2022. His brief preseason appearance resulted in two picks and he went 21-of-34 for 199 yards with one touchdown and one interception versus Montreal in the season-opener, before being forced from the game in the dying moments due to an ankle injury.

Initially, it seemed there would be more of the same in Hamilton. Mitchell posted just 70 first-half passing yards as his team fell behind by three scores and a Jovan Santos-Knox interception early in the third quarter had many wondering how long head coach Dave Dickenson would stick with the veteran.

With promising youngster Jake Maier waiting in the wings, failure to finish another game might have had lasting implications for Mitchell and he knew it.

“I lit a fire under myself after the pick because I knew it was a turning point,” Mitchell admitted. “Either you do something right now and prove who you are — not only to everybody else but to yourself again — or they are going to make a move.”

No move was needed, Mitchell lit up the Tiger-Cats’ defence for the remainder of the game, racking up 243 passing yards and two touchdowns after the intermission. The result was a 30-6 run by the Stampeders that first forced overtime and finished with a remarkable win.

For Mitchell, his final two quarters were a stunning rebuke of the rumours around his decline and a decisive statement on his job security. While manufactured controversies have clearly irritated the quarterback, even he had to acknowledge those were questions that needed answering.

“There were a lot of mistakes last year. I was compensating, trying to make plays too often and not doing it,” Mitchell said frankly. “There was even a play in the first game, I threw a go-route to Reggie [Begelton] against the safety one-on-one and Dave [Dickenson] kind of made a comment like, ‘Hey, you can’t try to manufacture throws.’ I just said, ‘Yes, sir’ but in my head, I was like, ‘Man, I’ve done it my entire career.'”

That strategy always worked for the future Hall of Famer, resulting in a highlight reel full of big plays. While a dogged critic might point out that Mitchell completed just 4-of-12 attempts thrown more than 15 yards downfield on Saturday, the cocky Texan believes he got that magic back after a half-time speech demanding more of his receiving group.

“I threw up a bunch of one-on-one balls. They’re not perfect balls, but I have trust in the receivers and they’ve earned a lot more of ’em, too,” he grinned.

They’ll get that chance when Calgary hosts rival Edmonton Saturday and for at least a week, the whole team can prepare without the unwelcome buzz of Mitchell’s critics.

How long the haters remain silent will depend on the continued durability of his right arm, not the strength of his middle fingers.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and youth football coach. He covers the CFL, the CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.