‘A story worth telling’: McLeod Bethel-Thompson sees Elks’ 0-4 start as a test from his football ‘ancestors’

Photo courtesy: David Friederich/B.C. Lions

The Edmonton Elks are celebrating the franchise’s 75th anniversary in 2024 and those who came before may be having an impact on the results, at least according to quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson.

Speaking to team broadcaster 630 CHED following their latest defeat, the 35-year-old passer tapped into his spiritual side to explain the Elks’ 0-4 start.

“I believe the ancestors of this game test people for a reason. Great teams that start 0-4 –there’s something in there, right? There’s an opportunity,” Bethel-Thompson mused.

“There’s no doubt that we can beat anybody in this league and not many 0-4 teams can say that. How many 0-4 teams can say they should have beaten all four teams? That’s something special. That’s a story worth telling and the CFL love stories. The ancestors of this game love stories.”

Through the first month of the season, the story of the Elks has been missed opportunities. The team’s four losses have come by a combined 17 points, all against teams with winning records. A field goal has been all that separated the Green and Gold from victory on the last three occasions, leaving some to question whether the once-storied organization really is cursed by the ghost of its past.

The latest defeat was perhaps the most heartbreaking, a 24-21 decision against the B.C. Lions that required a walk-off field goal from the West Coast juggernauts. Bethel-Thompson, who lambasted the CFL before the game for scheduling his team on a cross-country road trip on just four days rest, admitted that keeping morale up after those types of results is challenging.

“It’s not easy, man. We believe in the process, we get up and we keep swinging. I love the way this team practices. I love the way this team approaches the process and the week,” he said. “The biggest thing I see is that in the third quarter, we’ve got to pull away. You could feel B.C. kind of slipping a little bit and we didn’t put our foot on their throats. I can look to myself on that, that pick in the red zone was crucial.”

The eccentric pivot had his worst game of the year in Vancouver, finishing with 247 yards passing, a touchdown, and two interceptions, but has been far from the problem in the slow start. In fact, he and the rest of the team’s offseason additions have had the desired effect, vastly improving the offence and special teams while a young defence rounds into form. That simply hasn’t equated to victories for a franchise that has been snakebitten since 2019.

A test from the ancestors is no more ludicrous than any other half-baked theory raised by fans and pundits in the interim. Wounded and prideful, they’ve taken aim at everything from a necessary name change to the unceremonious departure of equipment manager Dwayne Mandrusiak and now the benching of Canadian QB Tre Ford to explain their team’s failings. None of those have actually been the answer but the return of Chris Jones three seasons ago has done nothing to treat the organizational rot, generating just an 8-32 record.

Bethel-Thompson has only been present for the last four of those defeats but losing has already taken a toll on the former Grey Cup champion.

“It hurts. I’m not gonna lie. It really, really hurts,” he said. “There are no moral victories and we’re an 0-4 football team that is dying to get a win. We have a great locker room with great talent but we’ve got to get over that hump somehow, someway.”

The Elks have 17 days between games to figure out how to finally get back into the win column, but a change to the status quo isn’t guaranteed. While a long bye week is typically viewed as a natural breaking point for a coach on the hot seat, the rumour mill remains unusually quiet regarding Jones as the publicly-owned team enters the late stage of their private ownership search.

It could be that these tight defeats are viewed as a sign of progress or just the calm before the storm, but it is clear that Bethel-Thompson believes the former. He contends that this current Double E generation is ready for the test, praising their daily approach and calling the process “golden.”

A historic turnaround feels like fate for the man under centre — just like it has for every losing team since someone first inflated a pigskin.

“That’s the great part, no one else is gonna believe we can do it,” Bethel-Thompson said. “The naysayers are gonna come in hard and they’re gonna come in strong. Let them shower us with that because there’s strength in that. We soak all that up. We take all that negativity and we’re going to turn it into some positivity and once this thing shifts, we’re going to be a dangerous team to be reckoned with.”

“Until then, we just chop wood and we’ve just got to believe. No one’s coming to save us, only the men in that locker room can fix it, and we’re going to take it one day at a time.”

The Elks (0-4) will return to action on Sunday, July 14 when they host the Ottawa Redblacks.

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