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Ecstatic, relieved Stampeders return to Calgary with Grey Cup

CALGARY — Tired but happy Calgary Stampeders filed off the buses at McMahon Stadium with the Grey Cup in tow Monday.

The Stampeders defeated the Ottawa Redblacks 27-16 for the CFL’s championship trophy less than 24 hours earlier in Edmonton.

After two straight Grey Cup losses to underdog teams, Stampeder head coach Dave Dickenson’s emotions were a mixture of joy and relief.

“It felt good, but I have to admit there was so much pressure and uneasiness you know,” Dickenson said.

“If you didn’t get it done for the third year, can you overcome that as an organization, as a team, as a coach? I just tried to really keep the guys focused.

“We stuck together, we believe in each other and guys did what they had to do to win. It’s great to win a championship. Even better to win it in Edmonton.”

The coaches pulled into McMahon’s parking lot just after noon. Dickenson stepped off the bus with the coveted trophy and hoisted it in the air for about 70 fans and media.

The former quarterback won his first Grey Cup as a head coach. Dickenson was the team’s offensive co-ordinator when Calgary won it in 2014.

Several players travelled separately with family members, including quarterback and Grey Cup MVP Bo Levi Mitchell, and were returning to Calgary later.

“I know the pressure Bo was under,” Dickenson said. “Everyone one was talking about how this game will define his legacy. I felt I had a little bit to do with that. I’m glad, because he wins me a lot of football games.”

A celebration of Calgary’s win is scheduled for Tuesday at noon in front of city hall.

Running back Terry Williams, whose 97-yard punt return for a touchdown late in the second half was a game-changer, said he’d been asked about that play more than he’d thought about it.

“We’re Grey Cup champs and that’s the most important thing,” Williams said. “I don’t think I got any sleep to be honest.

“That’s why I’ve got my sunglasses on. I’m tired. I’m ready to go home, take a hot shower and just relax for awhile.”

Calgary was the heavy Grey Cup favourite over the Toronto Argonauts in 2017 and the Redblacks in 2016, but lost both games.

With a receiving corps decimated by injuries and three straight losses in October, the Stampeders seemed more vulnerable heading into Sunday’s game.

“It’s probably the most rewarding season in my career, not really individually, just as a team,” receiver Eric Rogers said.

“The adversity we had to go through this year, especially this year at the receiving position and especially coming off two Grey Cup losses . . . facing all that adversity and then finishing the season as a Grey Cup champ is probably the most rewarding.”

Next-season talk happens quickly in professional sports. Dickenson and the players wanted a few days to savour the championship before dealing with the business of sport.

Both Mitchell, named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player this season, and star middle linebacker Alex Singleton just played the final season of their contracts.

“Not worrying about nothing until Thursday,” Singleton said. “I’m celebrating a Grey Cup.”

The collective bargaining agreement between the CFL and its players’ association expires in May. The league instructed teams not to give players signing bonuses until a new agreement is reached.

“I know we can’t sign guys and pay them signing bonuses,” Dickenson. “There’s going to be tons of work. We just don’t know when that time is going to be.”

The slippery conditions that had players fighting for footing at Commonwealth Stadium was a talking point of Sunday’s game.

The 2019 Grey Cup will be held in Calgary at McMahon.

“We have a different turf. It’s more football-related,” Dickenson said. “They have more of a soccer turf so the soccer ball rolls smoothly. There’s not as much pellet in the bottom.

“We just couldn’t get any footing when the ice got in there. It was like a road right after a snowstorm.

“I’ve got no problems playing the game in Calgary. We’ll put on a great show and I just hope we’re in it.”

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press