Stamps fans shouldn’t waste opportunity to give Bo Levi Mitchell the goodbye he deserves

Photo: Larry MacDougal/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Far too often in sports, franchise greats don’t get a chance to properly say goodbye to the fans, and the fans don’t get to send off their heroes in a manner befitting the player’s contributions to the franchise.

Typically, it takes the form of an off-season press conference in front of a few reporters. Players talk about retirement or moving on to another team and those thoughts are carried to the fans in a one-sided conversation.

What Stampeders fans are being offered this Saturday is a multi-layered opportunity to say goodbye to anywhere from one to three all-time Stampeders.

The first is relatively obvious. As per head coach Dave Dickenson, quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell will get some game action in the season finale against the Saskatchewan Roughriders this weekend.

This is likely the last time Stamps fans will be cheering for Mitchell in a home jersey and the franchise leader in most passing categories deserves an extended standing ovation from the fans who treated him with less than the right amount of love the last few seasons.

Mitchell is the only Stampeders quarterback with two Grey Cup wins as a starter and remains the winningest qua of all time in the CFL, despite struggling last season. When you line up the murderers’ row of CFL legends the Stampeders have had under centre over the last three decades, Mitchell still stands alone in his impact.

Mitchell became the starting quarterback in 2014 and won the championship in his first season at the helm, adding another in 2018. Of the seven Grey Cup games that have been played since 2014, Mitchell was the starting QB in four of them. He went to the championship game more often as a starter than not.

He is also a two-time league Most Outstanding Player, holds the CFL record for most consecutive wins as a starter, and was 6-3 this season before he was supplanted by Jake Maier. If the Blue Bombers beat the B.C. Lions this weekend, that would mean that Mitchell’s winning percentage was better than any other team outside of Manitoba this season.

There is no question that Mitchell is a first-ballot Hall of Famer at this point in his career and no matter where the future takes him — be it to another team hungry to see if he can regain the form that injury seems to have taken from him or to TSN in some capacity, where he has worked the last few Grey Cups as an analyst — fans will get to wish him the best in the proper way.

While I don’t expect the team will do anything to acknowledge the situation, fans can grasp this opportunity in their applauding hands, with accompanying cheers and whistles for the man who has kept this team at or near the top of the standings for his entire career and always made time for community events.

To a somewhat lesser extent — only because their futures are not as certain — there are other opportunities for fitting farewells on each sideline.

Charleston Hughes and Rene Paredes may also be suiting up for the final time at McMahon in this game.

Hughes was a Stampeder for a decade and, despite coming into camp as a linebacker, became one of the best defensive ends to ever strap on the pads in the CFL.

An elite quarterback hunter, Hughes was traded from Calgary to Hamilton and was then immediately flipped to Saskatchewan before the 2018 season, but remains on top of the Stampeders’ all-time list with 99 sacks, tied with Will Johnson.

Hughes has added 37 sacks in the last four seasons between Saskatchewan and Toronto and, despite limited playing time the last two years, has moved into the top five all-time in quarterback takedowns.

Hughes has already stated that while he will be a free agent when the season ends, he is not anticipating retiring at this time. That said, it may not end up being his decision.

As one of the league’s most engaging personalities, Hughes will be missed on the field and Stamps fans should celebrate him while they can. He is currently listed as the starter on  Saskatchewan’s depth chart, so hopefully he gets the appropriate response.

Stampeders’ placekicker Rene Paredes has had an enviable career since coming in to replace an injured Rob Maver in 2011. Maver was the incumbent field goal kicker but pulled his hamstring just before the first game of the season and was replaced by Paredes, who came in and kicked 491 field goals on 561 attempts and added 423 converts to enter the top 10 in all-time CFL scoring.

Maver would return from injury the following season and go on to be a weapon as one of the best directional punters U Sports has produced.

El Matador, as Paredes is affectionately known, is the second most accurate kicker of all time with an 87.5 percent success rate. He is currently behind only Ottawa’s Lewis Ward, who is in just his fourth season and has seen his average drop just a little every year after going 98 percent as a rookie.

Paredes is also the owner of five of the eight most accurate seasons of all time. Only three kickers have ever had a single season better than Rene Paredes and none more than once: Ward’s rookie year in 2018, Sean Whyte in 2016, and Paul McCallum in 2011.

Paredes has spoken openly the last few years about retirement, citing off-the-field opportunities as the reason for contemplating ending his career. It certainly isn’t because of diminishing skill.

This Stamps-Riders affair may not be one of the most anticipated games of the year; Saskatchewan has limped down the stretch and Calgary just wants to stay healthy. However, the unique opportunity to potentially wave goodbye to a trio of players who represent some of the best times that the franchise has ever seen is a special one.

A golden era of wins and championships and the certainty that the team had a better chance than not of being victorious every time they stepped onto the field.

Applaud them, cheer them, and drink it in Stamps fans; you don’t know how lucky you are to have the chance to do so.

Ryan Ballantine is a lifelong Stamps fan and host of the Horsemen Radio Podcast. He has been covering the team since 2008.