Should Bo Levi Mitchell lead Calgary to a Grey Cup win on Sunday, he’ll become the first quarterback in Stampeders’ history to win two championships.
“It surprised me hearing that because there have been a lot of great quarterbacks who have played on this team,” Mitchell said. “I want to focus on one Cup and it’s this one here.”
The beginning of Bo in the Canadian Football League can be traced back to one pivotal play five years ago at BC Place Stadium, during the 2012 West Final.
The Stampeders were the underdogs against the BC Lions and had a 24-16 lead late in the third quarter. John Hufnagel was the coach. Dave Dickenson was calling the offensive plays.
The Stamps were facing a third down and one situation when Dickenson turned to Hufnagel and asked if they wanted to call a play set up for Mitchell. Huff, as many refer to him, didn’t blink.
Mitchell was the third-string quarterback and hadn’t thrown a pass in the CFL at that point.
With 4:28 left in the third quarter and the Stamps on the Lions 42-yard line, Mitchell settled in for the play.
“I had one of the fastest guys out there in Mo Price so when I did the play action and started coming across I was supposed to set up but I felt defensive end pressure, so I continued to roll and put the ball out there for him.”
Mitchell can remember every moment of that play. He threw a 41-yard strike to Maurice Price and set the Stamps up on the one-yard line. Hufnagel left him in to punch the ball into the end zone. Except, it didn’t go as planned on the first try.
“I tried to run a wide sweep and reached out and [Lions’ linebacker Solomon] Elimimian broke two of my ribs. And then we had to go for it again on second down. Didn’t get it. Had to go for it on third down and I stretched my hands out and got it,” Mitchell said.
The Stamps went on to win the game and Mitchell prepared for the 100th Grey Cup with two broken ribs.
Top play ever
All these years later Mitchell calls it his “top play ever” in his football career. And this is a guy who has done a lot of winning and has made a lot of plays. He knew then how big that play was for how much trust his coaches were placing on him.
“I knew what it meant to my future career,” he said. “I’ve seen Huff lose confidence in guys for less.”
Hufnagel, now the Stamps general manager, says that play told him everything he needed to know about his future starting quarterback.
“He’s one of the reasons we’ve been so successful, said Hufnagel. “Winning football games is important to Bo.”
Mitchell is looking to avenge last year’s Grey Cup loss to the Ottawa Redblacks. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports)
Dickenson agrees. “I think we all thought Bo was going to be a good football player, including Bo, but when he stepped into the game of that magnitude as the third-string quarterback and executed that play perfectly, I think we felt the game wasn’t too big for this kid.”
Hufnagel still remembers Mitchell’s first start in the CFL, 2013 against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
“He was 28 for 34 that day and didn’t turn the ball over and has never looked back.”
Third time a charm?
On Sunday, Mitchell is leading the Stampeders into the team’s third Grey Cup appearance in four years.
In 2014, Calgary beat Hamilton 20-16 to win the championship, with Mitchell carrying the team that day. The 6’2″ Texan completed 25-of-34 passes and threw for 334 yards. He was named the Grey Cup MVP.
Last season Mitchell was named the league’s Most Outstanding Player and led the heavily-favoured Stampeders into the Grey Cup game against the Ottawa Redblacks. A botched play from the Ottawa two-yard line late in the game forced Calgary to kick a field goal and put the game into overtime. Henry Burris found some overtime magic to defeat Calgary, sending the Stamps and Mitchell into an off-season wondering what might have been.
Now it’s this third time for Mitchell.
“I’ve heard all the questions,” says the Calgary QB. “Do we have a chip on our shoulder? How is this year different? We just have to lock in and make plays.”
His head coach, who called the play that propelled Mitchell into all of this, believe his quarterback is ready to make some history.
“He has the best winning percentage in the history of the league,” Dickenson said. “He might actually play his best football in the big games.”
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