The question of rust – and how a three-week layoff might hinder the Calgary Stampeders' performance – was settled in just a little more than two minutes of play early in the CFL's West Division final against the B.C. Lions on Sunday.
Roy Finch returned the opening kickoff 46 yards. Four plays and 57 yards later, quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell had engineered the first of the Stampeders' five touchdown drives. A two-point convert made it 8-0 just 2 minutes 23 seconds into play. It was 15-0 Calgary early in the second quarter, 32-0 at the half and it finished in a 42-15 rout at McMahon Stadium, where the Stampeders finished the season with a perfect 10-0 record.
The Lions tried everything they could to stop the Stampeders' offensive onslaught. Nothing worked.
Calgary's defence was practically impenetrable until it didn't matter any more. Lions' coach Wally Buono switched from starting quarterback Jonathan Jennings to backup Travis Lulay and then back to Jennings again for the fourth quarter.
At that point, it wouldn't have mattered if they had Doug Flutie, in his prime, at their disposal. They looked tired and worn out. By contrast, the Stampeders had the freshest legs.
The Stampeders will play the Ottawa RedBlacks in the 104th Grey Cup, at Toronto's BMO Field on Sunday.
Bye weeks have not always been kind to the CFL's division champions in the past, and Calgary had two in a row.
But according to receiver Marquay McDaniel, who caught a 32-yard, second-quarter touchdown pass from Mitchell to cap a 103-yard drive, the time off "was good for us. We looked real fresh. We knew we had a great week of practice."
Mitchell, favoured to win the CFL's most outstanding player award during Grey Cup week, had a field day against a usually stingy B.C. defence. He finished with 21 completions, 365 yards and three touchdowns and managed to get the ball to seven receivers in the first half alone. It was a clinical exhibition of passing brilliance, and greatly overshadowed the struggles of the younger Jennings, who had an equally tough game on the McMahon Stadium field a year ago in a 35-9 loss in the West semi-final.
"At the end of the day, the legacy we're trying to leave is being one of the best teams to ever play this game," Mitchell said.
"We can't do that by squeaking out wins. We can't do that by just getting by. We're coming out here to dominate every chance we get. It's going to be a tough week. Ottawa's in the Grey Cup for a reason. We respect these guys, but we will not fear them. We will go out and play our game and do what we do."
McDaniel led the Stampeders receiving corps with 131 yards on four catches. He and Mitchell were the team's go-to tandem all season long.
"Bo's only 26, so he's got a long way to go," McDaniel said. "He's only going to get better and better. Bo wants to be one of the greatest and if he keeps doing what he's doing – and putting in the work, and playing how he's playing, I think he could go down as one of the all-time greats."
Lulay came on at the start of the second half and immediately put a touchdown on the board, briefly raising the team's hopes. B.C. overcame a 19-point disadvantage to win the previous week over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, but it didn't have a second miracle in the arsenal this weekend.
If there was a turning point in what was already a one-sided game, it might have come with 29 seconds to play in the first half. Calgary just had a touchdown to Kamar Jorden overturned by the replay official and had to settle for a Rene Paredes field goal, increasing its lead to 25-0.
On the next play from scrimmage, Jennings tried to hit Marco Iannuzzi with a long throw across the field, only to have it intercepted by Stampeders defensive back Jamar Wall. Wall returned it 32 yards. The pick six extended Calgary's lead to 32 points. From there, it was largely academic.
Unlike the East final, it was a perfect day for football in Calgary. It was 2 C at kickoff, the sun was out and the winds were light.
Night eventually fell, but all was brightness and light in the dressing room afterward.
"One thing we talk about around here – we use the word legacy," McDaniel said. "I've been here five years and we've been good one year – 2014 – and we said we want to be great this year. We've said that since training camp. We had a bad taste in our mouths since last year. One more win and it'll make us great – and that's what we want."