TORONTO — Dave Dickenson was a tad prickly with the media ahead of his team's practice Friday, irked over suggestions the Calgary Stampeders will take Ottawa too lightly in Sunday's Grey Cup.
"I don't get why people are saying we're looking past 'em. Where are we looking? It's the next game. It's the only game that matters," Dickenson said with a scowl.
The Stampeders went 15-2-1 during the regular season. They're 10-point favourites to beat the Redblacks at BMO Field and would love nothing more than to cement their standing as one of the best teams in league history.
But a day after walking away with five of the CFL's individual season awards, the Stampeders say none of it — not the records, the win streaks, the awards or predictions — matters.
"We don't buy into the fact that we're favourites," said quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who won the league's most outstanding player award. "We don't look at the fact that writers will pick us, or people are putting a spread on whatever might be. If you look at that, you allow cracks, you allow seams to break open and give you a reason to look past the game.
"Our job is to not see (the Redblacks) as underdogs, because we all know they're very capable of winning this game and we have to make sure we don't buy into any of the hype over anything that we've done. Because honestly, the wins, the records, the awards don't mean squat. They don't mean a damn thing when it comes to this football game right now."
Still, rarely has there been a more dominant team.
The Stampeders had a chance to make history in their regular-season finale against Montreal. A victory would have broken the CFL record for standings points set by the Edmonton Eskimos in 1989.
Instead, Dickenson chose to sit Mitchell along with other key players, and the Alouettes won.
"It burned, it burned, but we had to get over it and move on," running back Jerome Messam said on their near-miss at history. "Grey Cup is the focus. It would have been nice to have the best regular-season record, but what does that mean if you don't win the Grey Cup?"
Messam, who won the outstanding Canadian award Thursday night, said the Stampeders' mantra since about Week 8 has been "Grey Cup or bust."
"Once we saw the type of team we had and the wins we were getting as far as coming from behind, sticking together, we just knew we had a squad that was going to be pretty tough to beat," he said.
Messam, from Brampton, Ont., said he knew the team was something special after the second matchup against Edmonton on Sept. 10.
"They played us tough, we went out there and whipped their ass on Labour Day (45-24), they came back and jumped on us the next week, and we had to fight and scratch and claw to win that game, and it was a collective effort.
"From there on, we knew we were going to be tough to beat and we thought that we handled our west opponents well, so that gave us a pretty good notion of how we were going to handle the east."
The Stampeders looked loose in Friday's practice at Monarch Park Stadium, showing off their dance moves during warmup as a Drake song blared over the loudspeakers.
But Dickenson, who became the first rookie coach to lead his team to a 15-win season, was all business.
"It was a fun night last night (awards), and it's getting serious — to me at least. That's the way it should be," Dickenson said. "I know it's going to be one of those games where you'll have your ups and downs. I want us to be as prepared as possible. Knowing this is kind of your last real practice, I'm looking for a good day from our guys."