The Calgary Stampeders proved they were the thoroughbreds of the Canadian Football League last year, capping a sensational 13-5 regular season with their first Grey Cup title since 2001. Now it seems the Stamps have the inside track to become the first CFL team since the 1997 Toronto Argos to successfully defend their title.
The key piece of the puzzle is quarterback Henry Burris, the Grey Cup MVP who has signed a four-year contract extension to stay in Calgary through 2012.
“Henry has proven that he’s an elite quarterback in this league and a vital part of our football team,” said head coach/general manager John Hufnagel. “We’re ecstatic to know he’ll be here for years to come.”
Burris, 34, last season set career highs in passing yards (5,094), touchdown passes (39), completion percentage (64.5) and quarterback rating (103.8) while establishing his position as the CFL’s top passer.
“This is the only team I can imagine playing for and I love the direction we’re heading,” said Burris. “I look forward to building on 2008. We all have great ambitions for the future.”
The immediate future could include another Grey Cup ring. The Stampeders have 19 of their 24 starters from last November’s championship game back on the roster as they prepare to kickoff the 2009 CFL season. They open their schedule by hosting a Grey Cup rematch against the Montreal Alouettes tomorrow at McMahon Stadium.
The problem is Calgary has been ravaged by injuries during training camp and could enter the season without defensive backs J.R. Ruffin and Brandon Smith in addition to playing without receivers Ken-Yon Rambo, Ryan Thelwell and Jabari Arthur. Offensive linemen Jeff Pilon and Jesse Newman also have nagging injuries.
The Stamps host the 2009 Grey Cup game Nov. 29 and are challenging to be the first team since the 1994 B.C. Lions to capture the CFL title at home. Entering the season as favourites to play in the hometown Grey Cup comes with its own challenges, but the players are dismissing the pressure.
“The fact that we won last year means we’re focused on the R-word (repeat) but every year your goal is to win the championship,” said Randy Chevrier.
“Nobody comes into the season saying this year we’re playing for second place. Every year it’s the same motivation. The game’s there and that’s our goal, but that’s everybody’s goal.”