The Calgary Stampeders’ black Monday dawned with a question: Was Justin Bieber a good choice for the Grey Cup halftime show?
If only things were that irrelevant.
In a 100th Grey Cup game that was a Toronto celebration and an Argonauts coronation, the Stampeders were horse-whipped and sent home feeling mystified. Losing 35-22 on Sunday was bad enough; losing from start to finish in every facet of the game made it a greater soul-searching exercise than the 13-point margin indicated.
And that leads to the questions that matter most to the Stampeders: Was their Grey Cup defeat simply a lousy game or a showcase of their weaknesses? What next for a team that looked so impressive in defeating the 2011 Grey Cup champion B.C. Lions only to show up empty in Toronto?
As head coach John Hufnagel stressed in his Grey Cup pregame speech, the secret of the Stampeders’ success had been getting the most out of the 42 players who were good to go. Against Toronto, there were only a handful of players who performed well for Calgary to win, chief among them return man Larry Taylor, who had 283 all-purpose yards.
Quarterback Kevin Glenn, who helped put the Stampeders in the Grey Cup, laboured through an atrocious evening. There was no bounce back in his showing, no game-taking heroics. Running back Jon Cornish had predicted that if he didn’t have a good outing, it would be because “we destroyed them through the air.” Instead, Glenn’s inability to produce anything more than field goals crumpled Calgary’s hopes and, in turn, settled Drew Tate’s undisputed status as the No. 1 quarterback come 2013.
Tate, the hot-wired Texan, started this past season and, after injuring his left shoulder, returned to start to the West Division semi-final. In that game, he passed for 363 yards and two touchdowns, but fractured an arm. While there are concerns over his inexperience, not to mention his durability, there is still plenty of upside to Tate’s game. The same can’t be said for Glenn, who at 33 has proven his worth as a serviceable backup, the kind of quarterback who can fill in for a time until that time runs out and someone else has to take over.
Does that mean Glenn is out at McMahon Stadium? No. Expect him back next season, but perhaps as the No. 3 man behind Tate and Bo Levi Mitchell.
Neither Cornish, the CFL’s leading rusher, nor slotback Nik Lewis had the game of their lives against Toronto. Both were well defended by the Argos and also hampered by the fact Calgary’s offensive line was so overwhelmed. When the Stampeders were at their best, their offensive line worked in splendid harmony. When injuries and switching personnel from one position to another damaged that cohesion, the Stampeders failed to run the ball and Glenn became an easy target for opposing pass rushers.
In the Grey Cup, the Argos took away Cornish’s inside running lanes and turned up the heat on Glenn. The offensive line couldn’t handle the Toronto front four and that will have to be addressed by management in the off-season through trades or the draft.
Overall, though, this isn’t a Stampeders team that needs a sledgehammer taken to it. Hufnagel is secure in his job, having received a five-year contract extension when the Calgary Flames took over as majority owners. His assistants are well schooled and capable of better scheming than they showed in the Grey Cup. Player changes are always a part of sport, but the Stampeders’ most notable off-season assignment will be to keep Taylor, the return ace who is set to become a free agent in February of 2013.
The Stampeders need him. They need a solid offensive line and a starring Tate. If they get that, the answer to their questions will be clear: The 2012 Grey Cup was about them losing at their worst, not being beaten at their best.