CALGARY — Clutching his new souvenir football, Jerome Messam wasn’t about to fumble.
Not even quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell could pry the ball from the six-foot-three, 255-pound running back’s hands after Messam had just got it signed by former CFL star Doug Flutie.
“He’s a legend,” said Messam, who plans to display the ball alongside one he had signed by former running back Jerome Bettis, who retired after winning a Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006. “For Doug, he just had a great career.
“For him to do the things he did up here and then to go back in the NFL and flourish and have such great success, it’s just awesome.”
Messam, Mitchell and their teammates had a meet-and-greet session with members of Calgary’s ‘92 Grey Cup-winning team Friday at McMahon Stadium. Flutie spent four of his eight CFL seasons with the Stampeders (1992-95) before returning to the NFL in ‘98 with the Buffalo Bills after leading the Toronto Argonauts to consecutive championships (1996-97).
On Monday night, the Argos added Flutie to their all-time team prior to a 27-24 home win over the Ottawa Redblacks.
“Just to see these guys come back after these years and see the relationships and bonds be so strong, it just lets you know this game, it never really leaves you,” Messam said. ”For them to win a championship together and share those memories, it just puts things into perspective for us on how much we want to have those same feelings.”
Calgary (3-1-1) hosts the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (0-4) on Saturday night looking to run its McMahon Stadium win streak to 13 straight games. At halftime, Flutie and his former teammates will be honoured as part of what’s being billed as Legacy Night.
Mitchell said while it’s exciting to meet members of the ‘92 squad, the Stampeders remain focused on the task at hand.
“We’re professionals,” he said. “We’re here to play a game, we’ve studied all week.
“There’s not 40 women in bikinis over there trying to get you not to come to the game (Saturday). It’s a bunch of old football players talking a little bit, chatting a little bit and then just stay focused on the game.”
Calgary is coming off a 27-10 win over Saskatchewan last week. Messam played a prominent role in the victory, rushing for 135 yards and a TD on 28 carries.
Hamilton has lost 10 straight games to Calgary since 2011 and will be without all-star linebacker Simoni Lawrence (lower-body injury). The Ticats haven’t won at McMahon Stadium since 2004.
“They haven’t had a win yet so people could be seeing this as a trap game for us,” Messam said. “We just can’t play to their level.
“We’ve got to play Stampeder football — go in there, lock in, focus on our gameplan and we should come out with the win.”
Hamilton coach Kent Austin didn’t need to be reminded of his team’s struggles in Calgary. In 2004, Danny McManus was the Ticats’ starter and the Stampeders’ head coach was Matt Dunigan, the former CFL quarterback now working as a football broadcaster with TSN.
“We’re actually aware we haven’t won out there in a long time,” said Austin. ”We’ve been close. It’s a tough place to win, but we don’t focus on that.
“I haven’t even talked to the team about that. We’ve got a whole bunch of guys there that don’t even know any better. They’re still learning to play the game. Those things are really not relevant to our preparation and how we play.”
Hamilton is coming off a heart-breaking 31-28 home loss to Edmonton. Eskimos starter Mike Reilly capped a five-play, 75-yard game-winning drive with a 15-yard TD strike to Vidal Hazelton before finding Bryant Mitchell for the two-point convert to erase a 28-23 deficit with 23 seconds remaining.
Austin said he wasn’t about to take a chance on Lawrence injuring himself further.
“He’s not 100 per cent so we’re going to rest him and get him back to 100 per cent,” Austin said. “We need him to come back at 100 per cent and be able to play at his peak capacity.
“He’s been hobbling around and trying to fight through it but we don’t want to risk it from getting bad to really bad.”
Quarterback Zach Collaros will be looking to bounce back from Hamilton’s loss to Edmonton in which he threw one touchdown pass and two interceptions.
“It’s been a tough start for us obviously,” Collaros said. “We’ve just got to continue to believe in what we’re doing and getting better every day. I thought we had a good week of practice.
“That being said, Calgary’s a great football team. It’s going to be a real challenge for us and we’re going to have to execute at a high level to win, but we’re excited for the opportunity and challenge.”
Laurence Heinen, The Canadian Press