Calgary Stampeders back to ‘normal’ conditions on the football field

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There was no need to gloss over Sunday’s opening of the Calgary Stampeders’ main warehouse.

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The excitement was obvious.

“Damn, it felt good,” said Stampeders QB Bo Levi Mitchell happily. “It felt so good, man. The dressing room feels great because the boys are just excited to be playing football again. I know we have things on the outside but right now we’re getting between the white lines.

“We just have to have fun and be happy to be out there.”

In the next few days, all systems for the stamps will actually be up and running at McMahon Stadium.

But upcoming Wednesday is a deadline for Alberta’s CFL teams in the latest industrial dispute between the league and the players’ union.

The CFL and CFL Players’ Association broke off talks over a new collective bargaining agreement on Saturday, resulting in three teams – the Montreal Alouettes, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts – canceling practice on Sunday, while players from the Stampeders and reported to the Edmonton Elks, under state regulations.

Acting players' representative and defense attorney for the Calgary Stampeders, Derek Wiggan, is
Acting players’ representative and defense attorney for the Calgary Stampeders, Derek Wiggan, is “really confident” the CFL and CFL Players’ Association can reach an agreement before Wednesday’s deadline. Photo by Gavin Young /mail media

“For us, we’re practicing because of Alberta labor laws, so it’s a normal day for us,” said Stamps assistant players’ representative and defense attorney Derek Wiggan. “We will go through the process and then on Wednesday we will see what happens.

“I am confident. I’m really hopeful. We trust in our negotiation team. I know they’re going to get us something good, so we just have to get it done by Wednesday.”

Meanwhile, the Stamps seem happy to be there.

“We talk about it, of course,” Mitchell said. “People probably have different opinions about what’s holding up the negotiations and things like that.

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“Obviously we want a deal because we want to play football here when it comes to June. It would be great if that could happen as soon as possible. It would be great to know that all the other teams out there are training too. At the moment our way of thinking is at the minimum. We have three days of training, so let’s go out there and focus on that.”

Speaking about the upcoming deadline for the CFL and players to reach a new collective bargaining agreement, Calgary Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson said,
Speaking about the upcoming deadline for the CFL and players to reach a new collective bargaining agreement, Calgary Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson said, “I don’t see any clouds, so I’m comfortable.” Photo by Gavin Young /mail media

For his part, Stamps head coach Dave Dickenson chose to stay away from the job talks rather than focus on the buzz of a return to normal after two back-to-back CFL seasons marred by COVID restrictions — the 2020 season being canceled entirely, and those of last year arriving late and abbreviated.

“I don’t see any clouds, so I’m comfortable,” Dickenson said, speaking colorfully about the upcoming appointment. “The energy is good. The positivity is there. The players are engaged. Coaches are excited to see what we’ve implemented, if we can take that communication to the players and take care of the details.

“In addition, in three days decisions will be made about who will join the team and who will not. So we control what we can control.”

Also, the head coach would rather talk about returning to action at McMahon, especially in May.

“For me, it does,” Dickenson said of feeling like things are returning to normal this spring. “Everyone has that extra buzz right now. We were all looking forward to starting 2022. And I tell the guys they want to be here this year because we’re going to have a hell of a year. We’re going to do some things – we’re going to have fun and we’re going to play football to win. And I think our guys bought in because they’re looking forward to being here.”

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His Superstar QB agreed.

Calgary Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said after last year's 14-game campaign with COVID-19 restrictions,
Calgary Stampeders quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell said after last year’s 14-game campaign with COVID-19 restrictions, “It definitely feels like a much more normal season. Photo by Gavin Young /mail media

“Especially when I come back now,” Mitchell said. “Last year we just started like mid-June or something…July? That was crazy. It was hot. Right now we had snow the first day the rookies landed (last Tuesday). I thought I knew these guys get off the plane and say, ‘What’s going on here?’

“It definitely feels more like a normal season. We know we have an 18-game season ahead of us. Real season, fans back, no restrictions… stuff like that. I think we’re just looking forward to coming back and reminding everyone how fun the CFL season is. You don’t always question, well… yeah we have 14 games (like last year). The biggest problem with COVID over the last year was always going to the locker room and not knowing if someone has tested positive and now we have to wait to find out who their close contacts were and things like that. Now all we have to do is come here and play football. It is going to be great.”

It will be natural if there is no work stoppage.

“Unfortunately, we’re getting a little closer,” Wiggan said. “Just being in meetings with the guys, all in one room, so that’s a small step towards normality. Then just practicing out here, another step, but we have the work going on and we just have to trust the process – let it play itself out. We can’t really control that. We just need to know – when you get the information, make informed decisions, and move on from there.

“Everyone wants to play. We all want to play, but unfortunately that’s how business works sometimes. It will be postponed until the last minute. Unfortunately we were not able to finalize (a new agreement) at the last minute.”

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Overall, the Stamps have 101 players registered for main camp, but a handful are yet to arrive… First-round pick Jalen Philpot, a receiver who has had a dynamic career with the University of Calgary Dinos, remains paused after limited activity with tension in the rookie camp “He won’t go for a while,” Dickenson said of Philpot. “He’ll be at least a week old. He has sore muscles. I want him to commit to his responsibilities and all that. But if you’re standing around during a pull, it gets a little tight. Hopefully he’s doing the right things. He had three or four plays in rookie camp – and a couple of those were really nice – so he blitzed early but maybe not as often as we would have liked.” … Also RB Charlie Power (Achilles) and DL Connor McGough (myocarditis) are on the injured vets list. The Stampeders selected Canada’s Rayam, who outstanding in 49 games with the NCAA’s Boston College Eagles, in the May 5 supplemental draft. The son of Thomas Rayam, former Stampeders offensive lineman and member of Calgary’s 2001 Gray Cup championship team, TJ Rayam joins the Red and Whites after attending mini-camp with the Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League. The American Hunter recently attended rookie camp with the NFL’s New York Giants. In college, he played 64 games in five seasons for the NCAA’s Appalachian State Mountaineers and earned three-time All-Sun Belt Conference honors, including 2019 second-team honors and 2020 and 2021 first-team recognition.

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