From a football fan’s viewpoint, an ideal season for their favorite team would culminate in a Grey Cup championship. At least, that’s the way most of us would look at it.
But it’s just not so.
Here is what the perfect season is for a club like Calgary’s Stampeders.
First you don’t get blitzed in the injury department like the club did last season. Just by doing that this squad could save hundreds of thousands of dollars. Then, though, if everything goes according to plan, you win 12 or 13 games on the season and pack McMahon Stadium for each and every home game, putting big-time money into the bank account.
With that record, you finish first in the Western Division and are allowed to host the West final for a berth in the Grey Cup game.
After that, you lose the West final and start counting the profits. Because a win in the division final will quickly see those profits disappear.
In a nutshell, it costs too much money to go to the Grey Cup because there is little or no money coming in any more, and thousands going out to get your team to that national final.
Now, all of this changes if you happen to win the right to host that Grey Cup game. That is a license to print money. Hosting a Grey Cup is a multi-million-dollar opportunity. But playing it at home can mean millions more.
But nothing is guaranteed in the sports business. And even if you told the players it would be more profitable to drop that West final, they would never lay down and play dead.
You saw what happened as the Calgary Flames stumbled their way to their fourth season without a playoff game. Had they kept everybody around they could have given themselves a shot at maybe first pick in the upcoming National Hockey League draft.
Instead, they trade two of their highest-paid stars, although that word may not really fit here, in an effort to retool for future seasons. By doing so they have to fill the roster with youngsters hoping one day to be a regular in what they call “The Show.”
Under normal circumstances that would be the way to secure that first, second or maybe even third pick in a year when the draft is solid in young players, many thinking some can make the step into the big time in year No. 1.
But these kids are obviously aware that making an impression now can weigh heavily on decisions to be made at next year’s training camp or even at the prospects camp during the summer, another long summer for the veterans.
So they go out and put together a three-game win streak and post a half-a-dozen wins in just 10 games to fly from a top pick all the way into seventh spot. Management had to be pulling hair out in the press box wondering how this club was winning with kids when it couldn’t win with proven veterans. Or they could have been saying, and no one will admit to it I’m sure, why we didn’t do this in the first place.
Blow the thing up early and let the kids carry the load. The fans would buy the experiment in looking to the future and, had it happened early, the youngsters might well have secured that elusive playoff spot.
What made matters worse in the overall picture was that while the youthful Flames were spoiling things for several clubs ahead of them in the standings, those hated Edmonton Oilers were going into the tank themselves, winning only three in a 10-game stretch near the end and all but securing a better draft pick than the Flames. That is until the final week of the season when the Flames returned to normal and lost three in a row and the Oilers posted back-to-back upsets, spoiling a Minnesota bid for a playoff spot (the Wild getting in with a final game victory over Colorado the next night) and then closing with a six-goal third period and a 7-2 verdict over the potential Stanley Cup champion Vancouver Canucks.
But it’s the Canucks we have to start pulling for come the start of the playoff run as the only West Division team still going. Mind you, those Toronto Maple Leaf and Montreal Canadien fans will be coming out of the woodwork, too, as both made the playoffs. And there are probably one or two Ottawa supporters.
Whatever, let’s get that Cup back where it belongs, on our side of the border.
Instead of a joke today, a quote from long-time astronaut John Glenn, who said: “As I hurtled through space, one though kept crossing my mind – every part of this rocket was supplied by the lowest bidder.” Now that is profound.
Billy Powers has written and talked sports in the area for over 50 years.