‘He would have thrived there’: Olympic curler Ben Hebert tried to sell Bo Levi Mitchell on Riders

Graphic: 3DownNation (Photos: AP/Jae C. Hong | Hamilton Tiger-Cats)

Ben Hebert may be a four-time Brier winner, World Champion, and Olympic gold medalist, but he couldn’t put the stone on the button when it came to recruiting for his hometown Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Regina-born lead, who now calls Calgary home, swept hard to steer his close friend and podcast co-host Bo Levi Mitchell towards the Riders, only for the curler to fittingly fall victim to The Hammer.

“I’ve talked to him lots about it, it’s been a hot topic for him all summer and obviously I was trying to push him to go to Sask. I wanted him to play with my hometown team, I thought he would have thrived there and had a lot of opportunity,” Hebert said in an appearance on the Rod Pedersen Show this week.

“But in the end, it doesn’t matter. I think his wife really wanted to go East, to be honest with you. She likes the warm weather and I think it’s a good fit maybe for their family and what they wanted to accomplish.”

Mitchell had his rights traded to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats this offseason following 10 years with the Calgary Stampeders. The veteran quarterback made it clear that he intended to test free agency when his contract expired in February but ultimately committed to the team before hitting the open market.

The Ticats hosted Mitchell and his wife, Madison, for a visit in December to show them the team’s facilities as well as other amenities around the city. He inked a three-year deal with the team the following month worth up to $1.62 million, much to the disappointment of several other potential suitors, including Saskatchewan.

The 33-year-old later revealed that signing with the Riders was on his radar but said that the club didn’t make the moves he wanted prior to the opening of the CFL’s negotiation window. Hebert couldn’t speak definitively on his friend’s motivations but believes that the ability to win played a large factor.

“I’m not naïve, I follow the CFL. The East is probably a little more up for grabs. It seems to be up for grabs every year,” he said. “I think going there, he’s got a really good winning percentage. I think you can always get a couple softball games out there throughout the season. I think he wants to win and you have a better chance to win in a certain scenario.”

After a disappointing season for both him and the Ticats in 2022, Mitchell has promised to “make the CFL fun again” with his new team. Hamilton spent lavishly in free agency to support that goal, with the aim of breaking the league’s longest Grey Cup drought at home in 2023.

According to Hebert, Mitchell is enjoying the move thus far. The two pals recently reconnected in Toronto and the quarterback expressed his excitement about working with the team’s receiving corps and head coach Orlondo Steinauer. However, the decision to snub the Riders for the Ticats will only ever be judged by one metric.

“I know the proof is gonna be in the pudding,” Hebert said. “If he goes there and he wins and he’s successful — greatest decision ever. He goes there and he loses and it’s no good — terrible.”

That’s a dynamic that the curler can relate to thanks to his own sporting background.

“He’s at a level where he’s won championships. That’s what happened to me. We just went to the Brier, we were the sixth ranked team in the world, we finished third at the Brier, had a pretty good season and I’m like, ‘meh, average.’ Once you’ve won, there is no bar of second and third place,” he explained.

“It’s no different than Bo. He’s gonna go there and if he goes to Hamilton and he wins a Grey Cup, he’s going to be flying high. Best move ever and he’s going to the Hall of Fame anyways, but just another big green checkmark on his resume. But if he goes there and loses, or gets second, even has a really good season — no good. Just kind of comes with the territory of being a champion when you’re young.”

Mitchell has two Grey Cup championships and two Most Outstanding Player trophies on his already impressive resume. He became Calgary’s all-time leading passer in 2022 and has thrown for 32,541 yards, 188 touchdowns, and 89 interceptions.

However, the Katy, Tex. native has struggled with injuries since 2019 and was benched last season in favour of Jake Maier. He finished the season with a 6-3 record as starter, completing 61.3 percent of his passes for 2,010 yards, nine touchdowns, and six interceptions.

The Ticats are betting on a bounce-back and Hebert believes that Mitchell will deliver.

“He’s going to put the work in. I watched it the last couple of years, he put the work in here too,” he insisted. “I don’t think work is ever his downfall but if he’s put in a good situation to succeed, Bo’s still young. I saw him, he actually looks really good, looks fit. I think he’s gonna have a good year.”