B.C. Lions head coach Mike Benevides has said he hasn’t gotten over losing the 2012 West Division final; that he’ll “carry that [defeat] with me to the day I die.”
Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish hasn’t forgotten last November’s West final, either. He remembers being on the right side of the 34-29 score only to hear some Lions insist they were the better team.
That, Cornish countered, was just plain “disrespectful.”
It is only their first meeting of the 2013 regular season and already its game on for the Lions and Stampeders.
Friday at McMahon Stadium, the two rivals match blocks and tackles in what should be an emotional affair.
For starters, this will be the first significant event staged in Calgary since the Southern Alberta flooding that destroyed property and claimed lives in High River. The game is being used as a fundraiser for the Canadian Red Cross and its relief efforts; Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi will be in attendance.
Then, there’s the football side of things, a rivalry spiked by two teams whose regard for one another is reverential, fiercely competitive or downright loathsome depending on the moment. Last season, B.C. won the first of four clashes with Calgary, yet the Stampeders won the one that mattered, the West final at B.C. Place Stadium.
That outcome, which cost B.C. a trip to the 100th Grey Cup, is still painful to many of the Lions. For Cornish, whose Stampeders lost in the championship finale to the Toronto Argonauts, the memory of the Lions’ reaction is enough to stir the embers.
“They have a bunch of great guys who can make plays. I have a lot of respect for them,” Cornish said. “But they disrespected us after the Western final. Andrew Harris said they were the better team. They said they lost the West final. We won it. … The last time we played them [before the final] we won. We were 12-6. They were one game better [13-5]. They’re going to say they’re a much better team? You anger people saying that.”
Cornish is intent on being better than he was a year ago, which would make for a neat feat since he lead the CFL in rushing with 1,457 yards and was voted the most outstanding Canadian.
To achieve improvement, the New Westminster, B.C., native, wants to hit the turf running against a team that boasts a mammoth defensive front seven as well as an experienced secondary.
Asked what his plans were for Friday, a stone-faced Cornish answered: “Dominate and win.”
His teammates concurred.
“I want to have the best game of my career,” said defensive end Charleston Hughes, who led Calgary in sacks last season. “You come out in the season opener, all you want to do is win. That’s all I care about.”
The Stamps and Lions have made personnel moves for Friday. Receiver Geroy Simon no longer plays for B.C. while veteran centre Angus Reid and kicker Paul McCallum are sidelined with injuries. Calgary will have a healthy Drew Tate as its starting quarterback. Jonathan Hefney has been added as a linebacker/defensive back.
The most notable change is at right tackle on the Stampeders’ offensive line and, in keeping with the theme of the night, it also comes with an emotional twist.
Dan Federkeil, former University of Calgary Dino and Indianapolis Colt, makes his return to pro football after an almost four-year absence. The 6-foot-6, 290-pound Albertan retired from the NFL in 2009, after experiencing post-concussion issues. Calgary acquired his CFL rights from Toronto earlier this year and eased him back into the line-up.
Federkeil is eager to connect with his teammates and reconnect with the three-down game.
“How to run off and on the field a lot more,” he said when outlining what adjustments he’s been making to Canadian football. “In Indy, there’d be four or five drives a game, not a quarter. That’s a big thing. As for [blocking] technique, it’s a lot more about patience, being a yard off the ball.”
Federkeil added he was hopeful McMahon would be filled so the Stampeders could entertain their fans. “Give them an escape, at least for a few hours.”
Cornish said much the same thing. Then, he upped the determination.
“For this game,” he Tweeted after practice, “I will be donating $10 a yard to the Red Cross. Let’s hope BC’s defense doesn’t have a problem with that!”