The highest prize in the Canadian Football League and the two teams vying for it arrived in Calgary Tuesday afternoon.
Mother Nature rolled out the white carpet for the Grey Cup Tuesday, with Calgary blanketed in a snowfall warning. But the snow didn’t hinder the arrival of the cup, continuing the CFL tradition of playing in almost any weather conditions.
“One of the reasons I love Canadian football is because you get to play in all kinds of weather,” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Tuesday. “Today is the perfect day for Canadian football.”
Nenshi, along with CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, former Calgary Stampeders running back Jon Cornish and Calgary city councillors, welcomed the CFL’s championship prize to Calgary’s Olympic Plaza after marching the Grey Cup down Stephen Avenue.
They were joined by the Regimental Pipes and Drums of the Calgary Highlanders, and the Lord Strathcona’s Horse. A small contingent of Hamilton Tiger-Cats fans and other CFL fans were also there for the cup’s noon hour arrival.
Ambrosie said it’s especially significant to have the Grey Cup game and festivities in the southern Alberta city.
“In 1948, a bunch of wonderful — if not somewhat crazy — Calgarians got on a train with a horse and rode that train to Toronto and rode that horse into a hotel,” Ambrosie said Tuesday. “And the modern Grey Cup was born.
Tiger-Cats land in Calgary
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers arrived later Tuesday afternoon by charter, ahead of the first practices on Wednesday.
After touching down in Calgary, Tiger-Cats head coach Orlondo Steinauer said he’s been telling his players to get “locked in.”
“I want them to enjoy it but do what got us here, and that’s focusing,” he said.
“You don’t get opportunities like this every year that you play. I think they understand the importance of that. I think our foundation is built pretty strong.”
Distractions present the biggest challenge, Steinauer said.
“I think that the players haven’t experienced all the attention… That’s all good, but it’s all going to be decided on game day,” he said.
Steinauer explained that he would be excited for any matchup and is happy that they made it this far.
“I respect Winnipeg and the path that they’ve had to get here,” he said. “I respect their coach — they’re well-coached. They’ve earned their way here but so have we.”
He said Winnipeg is different on the offence front than it has been throughout the year, adding that they play hard and make plays defensively — but Steinauer is strictly focused on his team.
“Anybody who’s sat in our media room knows that I’m not going to spend a lot of time focusing on the opponent outside of game plan and preparation. We got here by focusing on ourselves, paying attention to detail — that won’t change this week,” he said.
Steinauer spoke of how excited he feels for his team to be at the Grey Cup.
“It’s an understatement of how proud I am of our staff, our organization and the men in that locker room. It’s a long journey… 23 weeks when you include the preseason,” he said.
“Any time you can make a journey like this and then have something to play for at the end, it’s special.”
Tiger-Cats quarterback Dane Evans has never been to the Grey Cup before but thinks it’s a great matchup because both teams have strong defences and offences.
“I know it’s going to be something I’m looking forward to and we worked hard to get here, so I’m going to enjoy it,” he said.
Frankie Williams, defensive back for the Tiger-Cats, said he is leaning on teammates with Grey Cup experience.
“We just got to continue to move forward, stick together,” he said. “Any time something goes wrong, get closer as a band of brothers.”
Blue Bombers post-landing chat
Mike O’Shea, head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, said he hasn’t talked to his players about what to expect.
“You’re really hoping it comes down to just being another football game,” O’Shea said. “They know the stakes, they know this is the last one, it’s for the championship, but the prep leading up to it has to be like a regular football game.”
O’Shea spoke of his team’s performance in the West Division final.
“We’ve got a good group. They know what they’re here for.”
Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros has Grey Cup experience but still wants to keep learning.
“It’s a great group of teammates and the coach has done a great job of teaching me the playbook and all those different intricacies that it has,” he said.
Adam Bighill, linebacker for Winnipeg, said he’s putting “every ounce of energy” into preparing for this week.
“We got to this point for a reason and it’s because of the process, because how hard we worked every single week to prepare to win,” he said.
There are always distractions when it comes to this championship, Bighill said.
“The experience is being in a city full of energy that really can’t wait to see a Grey Cup game, but it really comes down to the work and not getting caught up in distractions,” he said.
The Tiger-Cats are the only team the Blue Bombers have not defeated this season, Bighill said, adding that his team will be putting in the work so they can call themselves champions.
“They’re the most explosive offence, they have a great defence, they have a great special team unit,” he said. “From this standpoint, we got to go out and prove we are the best team in this league and we can take home the trophy.”
Winnipeg native Nic Demski, a Blue Bombers receiver, said he’s trying to keep level-headed so he doesn’t waste this chance.
“It means a lot to be here, being from Winnipeg, representing the Blue Bombers. That’s why I want to do everything right, do everything smart and efficiently so I can bring this Grey Cup home,” he said.
“We’ve been winning on the road all playoff, so we just want to keep that tradition alive.”
O’Shea and Steinauer will be addressing media questions Wednesday morning before leading their teams through practice.
CFL commissioner white-hatted
Monday afternoon, Ambrosie was given a traditional symbol of a Calgary hospitality — a white cowboy hat — a symbol that has decades-old ties to the Grey Cup. Ambrosie also took the pledge to become an honourary Calgarian — right hand raised with cowboy hat and boots on — complete with a “yahoo!”
“This city is world-famous for its hospitality and has welcomed Canadians from far and wide to come here and be a part of our Grey Cup Festival and Grey Cup game,” Ambrosie said Monday.
“Track record alone says it’s a virtual lock that (this year’s Grey Cup Festival) is going to be amazing. This city knows hospitality as well as any city in the world.”
LISTEN: CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie joins Calgary Today to preview Grey Cup week and getting the white-hatted
The Grey Cup Festival starts Wednesday evening with the kick-off party at 6:30 p.m., hosted by Dave Kelly at the Big Four Roadhouse.
The Tiger-Cats and Blue Bombers play in the 107th Grey Cup on Sunday, Nov. 24 at 4 p.m.