Four teams, four different journeys, and one Sunday. The grind of an 18 game regular season finally culminates to this weekend’s CFL Playoff Doubleheader.
If one has been following any of the four organizations that are vying for a berth in their conference finals, one is probably salivating at the idea of how much bright young talent the CFL is about to put on display. Toronto will feature the likes of Tori Gurley and AJ Jefferson, Hamilton has young stars throughout its roster like Terrell Sinkfield Jr., one of the best receivers in the league, Eric Rogers, plays in Calgary and he’s only in his 2nd year, and the BC Lions have pinned their title hopes on the arm of Jonathon Jennings. And that’s just scratching the surface!
All four of the CFLs Quarter Finalists will expect large contributions, on both sides of the ball, from guys in that 1-2 year range. At the very least, fans will get a heavy glimpse at the future of these franchises, or perhaps at guys that they earn opportunities to crack an NFL roster next summer.
But here’s the thing, and I promise this is true…No matter how good this young talent is on each team, it will be the play of the solidified veterans that will be the difference between winning and losing.
As much as Toronto needs Tori Gurley to make big plays, and for AJ Jefferson to be a lock down corner, they need championship leadership from Chad Owens and Ricky Foley even more. Terrell Sinkfield and Luke Tasker have to factor in as part of Hamilton’s success, but finding guys like Andy Fantuz in crucial 2nd down situations and having Craig Butler ensure that everyone in the secondary are on the same page is an absolute must.
We’re all excited about seeing Jonathon Jennings ball out, but the Lions need Adam Bighill’s experience and composure now more than ever against a Calgary Offense that is going to look to string out drives.
Speaking of Calgary; how could one not look forward to watching guys like Pierre Lavertu, and Lemar Durant continue their ascension in the CFL? That’s all well and good, but if you ask John Hufnagel, he’ll probably tell you that the Stamps don’t get anywhere if his core guys like Deron Mayo, Brandon Smith and Franchise QB Bo Levi-Mitchell aren’t on top of their mental and physical games.
Experience in the CFL playoffs equates to success. Every possession goes up in value, and with every rep becoming that much more important, teams need veterans that have been in those situations where composure has potential to give way to anxiousness.
I always talk about the need to be able to move on to the NEXT play, and being able to forget the good or bad of the previous snap. Every player needs to be in the moment. Each rep is too important to have thoughts lingering in one’s mind that take away from the focus on the play at hand.
It’s the guys who have won championships and have “been there” that understand what it takes to move forward. Don't be surprised when you see a guys like Foley making big plays on Sunday. Chalk it up as expected when the Lions do everything in their power to get Andrew Harris the ball, instead of ask Jennings to win the game with his arm. It's the vets that get teams over this hump.
There’s nothing like the 4th Quarter of these games. One minute the clock is moving far too fast, and the next minute one feels like the hands of time are stuck in the mud. The situations that one doesn’t have control of become harrowing for some players. If one is a defensive player, one winces at every throw and run that doesn’t turn into yardage, you’ll see how much it means to guys when a routine first down is celebrated like it’s the play of the game. As an offensive player, one just wants to get back on the field, and for the defense to go 2 and out, “just give us the ball back fellas.”
The feeling of not being in control is something that needs to embraced, and not lamented. The players that have Championship rings are the players that push the entire team through these moments, either by their play or through their words. The team that advances will be the team that handles the unique adversity that the playoffs offer.
Sunday is going to be a great day for CFL Football. The venues will be packed, the conditions will be tough, and the stakes will be at their highest point. The quality that all four organizations share is that they have some unreal talent spread throughout their rosters. The coaching staffs have done a great job leading their troops through the ups and downs of the grind that is the CFL schedule, and now 4 Quarters is all that separates a team from a berth in the Conference Finals.
It doesn’t matter how any of these teams got here, or who did what on the stat sheet. All that matters is that the Argos, Stamps, TiCats, Lions are poised make the final steps in their Grey Cup pursuit. The teams that find themselves standing when the final whistle blows will be the teams that have had their veteran leadership carry them through the battle. It’s not the time for the young guns in this league to shine any more. Sunday is Veterans Day in the CFL. Their value speaks volumes. It’s time for experience to take the reins…