choke: to lose one’s composure and fail to perform effectively in a critical situation.
(i.e. He had a chance to win the game but he choked)
— Merriam-Webster dictionary
It is, quite simply, the Stampeders way.
Dominate during the regular season, then choke in the Grey Cup.
Call Sunday’s 27-24 loss to a wildly outplayed Toronto team a meltdown or an implosion, if you want to be kind.
If you want to be honest, call it a choke.
Few franchises in pro sports are better at it than the Calgary Stampeders.
They have all but perfected the art.
Outside of putting 13 men on the field, what better way to cough up a game firmly in your grasp than by fumbling on the opposition’s three-yard line to give up a 109-yard touchdown, followed by a quarterback’s decision to throw into double coverage when a throw wasn’t even needed.
In both cases, ball security should have been the only concern.
The Toronto Argonauts didn’t win the 105th Grey Cup, the Calgary Stampeders lost it.
The team that essentially lost just one regular season game (that mattered) lost its second of the season on a night they were better in almost every facet of the game.
That’s what chokers do.
This team finds ways to lose at the most inopportune times.
It has been that way for three decades now.
Reciting all the big games they’ve collapsed in over that span is as needless as revisiting the three big plays that were the team’s undoing Sunday in Ottawa.
It’s just a fact — no one beats the Stampeders quite like the Stampeders.
Within 30 minutes of their latest gut-wrenching loss, three former Stamps sent me unsolicited text messages. One used the word curse, two used the word choke.
Sure, if you get into enough Grey Cups you’re bound to lose your share, but the boys in Red & White are known in Canada for producing top quarterbacks, being regular season juggernauts, being a class organization and for being chokers.
So, what now?
Short term, you do nothing, as decisions based on such raw emotion are often mistakes.
Some say fire coach Dave Dickenson, which is almost as stupid as hosting a Grey Cup armed with a couple dozen plastic shovels and two tiny snow plows.
It is people like Dickenson, John Hufnagel and Wally Buono who have been the backbone of this franchise since the early 1990s. Anyone remember how humiliating the team and the franchise were when none of those three were around for a handful of years?
Dickenson is the best in the business and suggesting anything less is an irrational, knee-jerk reaction at best.
Marquay McDaniel’s shocking, harsh, yet accurate assessment of Kamar Jorden’s costly fumble must be dealt with internally, as the organization will have to choose one receiver or the other moving forward.
It needs to be said: Bo Levi Mitchell brilliantly negotiated the conditions and pressure Sunday … until his final throw.
One has to wonder what these heartbreaking collapses will do to his mindset as he contemplates inevitable NFL opportunities after next season. At 27, he’s already spoken about his desire to leave his mark on the league, which suggests he wants to stay.
Had he won all three starts in the big game, it would have gone a long way towards an argument making him a frontrunner as the league’s greatest.
That didn’t happen, likely making it easier to leave town for a shot in the bigs. The heartache he’s experienced here may make it harder for him to justify returning to Calgary if his NFL stint doesn’t work out.
The smart money is on him leaving either way.
There will be plenty of significant roster changes this off-season, which will certainly disrupt the team’s all-world defence, which was nothing short of spectacular Sunday outside of Tommie Campbell’s misstep on the 100-yard touchdown. They dominated the trenches and deserved a better fate.
The whole team did, which is why a nation feels for how hard this must be for the players to stomach.
Fact is, when your team is as good as the Stamps have been, plenty of players earn themselves raises they’ll be able to cash in on only if they leave.
Surely some will want to leave based on the perennial pain every November that seems to come with being a Stampeder.
Jerome Messam, who unsurprisingly would not face the media after the game, has likely played his last game.
Dickenson said after the West Final that he refused to look back at 2016 as a failure just because they lost the big game.
Surely the coach can’t make the same argument for 2017, which was a 364-day wait for redemption that never came.
The Stampeders are the model franchise on and off the field, which is something fans should — and do — embrace.
But there seems to be a greater force out there ensuring they simply can’t have it all.
It will cost them season ticket sales, it will cost them advertising dollars, it will cost them sleep and it will cost them personnel.
However, you can bet the powers that be will have this club positioned next fall to break the cycle of pain that the organization is known for.
It can — and has been — a powerful motivator.
The focus on breaking the trend has also grown to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Every year, the Calgary Stampeders are armed with the ability to beat every team in the league, which, sadly, includes themselves.
(Eric Francis/Calgary Sun)