Evan Daum, Canada West Communications
HAMILTON – When it comes to Andrew Buckley’s football allegiances this weekend the answers are clear.
Naturally the Calgary Stampeders rookie quarterback will be looking for his squad to down the Ottawa Redblacks in the 104th edition of the Grey Cup Sunday in Toronto at BMO Field (6 p.m. ET / TSN).
But equally as obvious will be Buckley’s allegiance to the Calgary Dinos, as they take aim at the Vanier Cup Saturday at Hamilton’s Tim Hortons Field against the powerhouse Laval Rouge et Or (1 p.m. ET / Sportsnet).
For Buckley, 2016 has provided no shortage of wins for both his Stamps, who went 15-2-1 during one of the greatest regular seasons in CFL history, and the Dinos, who are a combined 9-2 on the year.
Just a year removed from guiding his alma mater to a perfect 8-0 Canada West record – before a deflating 34-26 loss in the Hardy Cup to the eventual Vanier Cup champion UBC Thunderburds – Buckley has been a constant on the sidelines during the Dinos playoff run.
“It was a hard way to go out for me,” said Buckley of Calgary’s loss last season in the Hardy Cup to UBC.
“It just so happened that we were playing them again in the Hardy Cup – a rematch with very similar circumstances. When that final second ticked off the clock, seeing our guys celebrating and their bench in defeat, it was a pretty cool moment and I was very proud of the guys.”
The Dinos thrilling 46-43 victory over the ‘Birds set the stage for another Dinos playoff win this past Saturday, as Calgary earned a trip to their 10th national title game with a 50-24 win over StFX in the U Sports Mitchell Bowl.
“It was especially cool seeing Jimmy come in for the second half, because given the extent of his injury it very well could’ve been a career ender. But he came back and was the hero and deservedly so,” remarked Buckey of his successor, who spent five seasons as an understudy before taking over the starting job in his final year of eligibility.
“The amount of work I’ve seen him put in, he deserved to have that moment to shine. He stepped up and won the game for them and it was just exciting knowing the gravity of the situation and that they’re now going to the national championship.”
The Dinos run has been met with no shortage of enthusiasm from the 2015 Hec Crighton Award winner as national player of the year. But admittedly Buckley is left reflecting at times on what could’ve been.
“I went (to Vanier) just once in my five years, so I do envy the fact that their going to the national championship, but at the same time I’m just so excited for all those guys and my friends still on the team that they have an opportunity to get a ring when I didn’t,” said Buckley, who went 19-for-29 in Calgary’s 25-14 loss to Laval in 2013.
Despite not being a part of the latest Dinos team to take a run at the national title, Buckley isn’t feeling too caught up in the past, as his current squad has had no shortage of success this season.
With the Stamps playing for the Grey Cup Sunday and Buckley having experienced a successful introduction to the CFL as the Western champs’ third string QB in charge of short yardage, life is good.
“To have a role in my very first year, I certainly wanted that going in but I certainly didn’t expect it. All the work I put in was to get to that point,” said Buckley, who equaled legendary Ottawa Rough Riders quarterback Russ Jackson’s 54-year-old record of eight rushing TDs by a Canadian quarterback.
“Realizing I could travel (with the team) and have a role was especially cool given how successful our team has been and how skilled our team is. To be a part of that has been awesome in my first year.”
Now, Buckley is hoping Calgary – both Calgarys that is – caps off the season in style.
“There’s nothing to lose, no reason to hold back,” said Buckley of the Dinos underdog role in the Vanier. “In the case of the Stamps, we’re heavy favourites going into this game…all year long we’ve had extremely high expectations and that won’t change for this game.”
“We’ve put in the work to win. It’s nice going in as favourites, but knowing that you have the skill to back it up.”
As for Buckley’s Saturday plans on the eve of the Grey Cup, he’s hoping they include a trip to Hamilton.
“I’m hoping to take the train, or drive down to Hamilton to catch the game,” explained Buckley. “Given it’s the day before our game it’s just going to depend on how our preparation goes and if I can spare the few hours.”
“Otherwise, I’ll be sitting in my hotel room, glued to the TV probably screaming it at a few times here and there, sending all my positive energy to the guys.”