Bo knows winning
Bothered by previous failures in the Grey Cup, Mitchell secures his legacy
This feeling, being with these group of guys, it’s the best feeling in the world.
Bo Levi Mitchell
EDMONTON — There won’t be nightmares for Bo Levi Mitchell this time.
The Calgary Stampeders quarterback had admitted that he was haunted by the previous two Grey Cup games. There were sleepless nights after the threeinterception performance against Ottawa in 2016, and troubled dreams again after last year’s title game ended when a Mitchell pass landed in the hands of a Toronto defender.
Mitchell said he would do things differently in his dreams, make fewer mistakes, throw the ball to the guys in the Calgary jerseys.
“You wake up and think you’re a champion,” he said.
This time, he really is. A 27-16 victory over the Ottawa Redblacks, a second championship ring, and a legacy secured.
“This feeling, being with these group of guys, it’s the best feeling in the world,” Mitchell said. He had long hugs with teammates on a makeshift stage, then embraced various Stamps officials. He held his toddler daughter in his arms, and posed for photos with friends. He yelled at someone about the alcohol he was going to drink, and frankly it did not sound like he planned to be too responsible about it. Mitchell, a grin on his face below his everpresent bandana, looked and sounded a lot like a guy no longer bearing an uncomfortable weight.
The 28-year-old Texan with the gunslinger tattoo on his arm did not turn in a virtuoso performance on Sunday night, but nor did anyone on a hard, slippery field. With temperatures around freezing and moisture apparently locked into the artificial turf, the Edmonton stadium’s sponsor-friendly name of The Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium was uncannily accurate. The Skating Rink Field at Commonwealth Stadium would also have worked.
Mitchell, who vowed that he would continue to be his same aggressive self in the 106th Grey Cup despite the mistakes he made in the previous two, promptly hit Chris Matthews for a 38-yard gain on the Stampeders’ opening series. But no sooner did he look like he was the poised and assured quarterback who has had unprecedented success since he won the starting job in Calgary, Mitchell reverted to the one who has made puzzling blunders on the CFL’s biggest stage. He took a shot at the end zone, but the floating pass — pressure up the middle kept him from stepping into the throw — was intercepted when Ottawa’s Jonathan Rose stepped in front of the intended receiver. It was right about this time that one wondered if this was going to be a repeat of earlier versions of this game. Was Mitchell, a free agent who could be throwing his final passes in Calgary, and possibly his final passes in the Canadian Football League, going to go out with an ignominious three straight losses in the season’s final game? Linebacker Alex Singleton had said he knew the two losses weighed heavily on his quarterback. Three straight would be a dreadful anchor.
When Mitchell won his second Most Outstanding Player award on Tuesday night in Edmonton, he alluded during his speech to the failures that he has had to overcome. He thanked his wife, Madison, saying she stuck with him “through his darkest times as a man.”
All of that led to the crazy dichotomy that was Bo Levi Mitchell. During the regular season, he had a frankly obnoxious resume of 150 touchdowns against 59 interceptions, almost 25,000 passing yards and a 69-15-2 record as a starter. No one in CFL history had a better first year as a starter than his 12-1 record in 2014, and no quarterback won 60 games faster than he did. He didn’t lose that swagger in the West playoffs, either, rolling up a 5-1 record with 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions in games that did not result in the awarding of a very large silver trophy.
But, the Grey Cup. Were it not for a holding call on a late Brandon Banks return TD that would have swung the game four years ago against Hamilton, Mitchell could have gone 0-3 in the championship game before Sunday. In three previous starts, he had four touchdowns and five interceptions.
Was it something about the league’s biggest stage that messed with the gunslinger’s sights?
Mitchell has said all week that he hasn’t done anything differently. He calls himself a point guard, and said he approaches these games the same as he does any of them: distribute the ball so his teammates can make plays. He has remained somewhere around the border of cocky and confident, saying that the Stampeders won the Grey Cup last year “except for three plays,” and insisting that he wouldn’t hesitate to take shots downfield even if safe options were available.
“I believe there’s not a throw on the field I can’t make,” he said this week. “But there’s times where that’s gotten me in trouble.”
His coach, Dave Dickenson, said he didn’t come into this game talking to Mitchell about what has happened in the past, and what needed to happen to make sure the result was different this time.
“He won the MOP for a reason,” said the coach of his quarterback. “He’s very mature and he’s been a great leader for us. There’s no reason to talk about (the past) because it’s not going to give us any love for this game.”
He said his advice for Mitchell was simple: “Play a football game, win a football game, that’s when they’ll give you the trophy. You don’t have to do anything more than that.”
Mitchell followed the plan. He bounced back from the early pick, finding Don Jackson on a beautifully designed screen pass for a touchdown, and then Lemar Durant while scrambling to his left for a second score. None of it was particularly pretty, on a 24-for36, 253-yard night, but it was a messy evening all around. The Redblacks had six turnovers themselves.
Mitchell thanked the Stamps this week for taking a chance on a “fresh-faced, buck-toothed, fat quarterback” when they signed him out of Eastern Washington in 2011.
Seven seasons, four Grey Cup appearances and two championships later, that kid has more than repaid the favour.