Moving right along with our Three-Down Theatre series of season previews, here's a look at the Calgary Stampeders, who plan to have Canadian players like running back Jon Cornish in critical roles this season.
If the Schwartz is with them, it could be a good year for the Stampeders.On the whole, the Stampeders are generally much more competent than most of the characters' in Mel Brooks' great sci-fi comedy. Still, they allowed the Montreal Alouettes to swoop in and steal first-round pick Ameet Pall, suggesting that either their drafting or roster management has farcical elements this year. While head coach and general manager John Hufnagel has done well on the whole since taking the reins in Calgary, the Pall situation was reminiscent of the scene where President Skroob (played by Brooks) finds out that the combination to Planet Druidia's air shield is "1-2-3-4-5", the same combination he keeps on his luggage. Overall, Hufnagel's management of the Stampeders has been much more impressive than Skroob's management of the Spaceballs (their planet's run out of air, so they have to go and steal it from Druidia), but he might want to change the combination on his roster to prevent future theft of high draft picks.
If Hufnagel's Skroob, his key ally Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis, who you may also know from perhaps the greatest Canadian comedy duo ever) would have to be offensive coordinator Dave Dickenson. Again, Dickenson's more competent in general than his Spaceballs counterpart, and he presumably knows the difference between a coffee machine and a radar machine. He's certainly willing to push the tempo at times when subordinates are chicken, though, and he can be very thorough with his ground-based offence. Dickenson's also known for his watching of tape, as is Helmet, so he just needs to figure out when "now" is...
Although he's on the other side in the movie, protagonist Lone Starr (Bill Pullman) is a nice analogue for Stampeders' quarterback Drew Tate. Both have a bit of party hair going on and portray a bit of a roguish attitude, and both have been suddenly thrust into a high-stakes situation. Tate took over the starting role from Henry Burris midseason in 2011 and will be entering this year as the unquestioned starter following Burris' trade to Hamilton, while Lone Starr sets out on what looks like a simple assignment to track down a princess and winds up developing the power of the Schwartz, beating Dark Helmet, saving a planet and learning his true heritage in the process. We'll see if Tate's first year as a starter can be as successful.
Lone Starr's key sidekick is Barf (SCTV and CFL legend John Candy, playing a "Mawg", or half-man, half-dog), and Tate's key sidekick this year should be another Canadian, running back Jon Cornish. Cornish put up a remarkable 7.3 yards per carry last season, taking over the bulk of the carries from Joffrey Reynolds mid-year and finishing with 863 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, and that performance led to Reynolds' off-season release. Cornish should be the featured back in the Stampeders' offence this year, and while leading men like Tate and Lone Starr get more attention, the sidekicks can be quite critical; Barf saves the day plenty of times, and Cornish will have the opportunity to do so this year.
The heroes wouldn't get too far without the intervention of "Just plain" Yogourt (Brooks), though, and in Calgary, that might be wide receiver Nik Lewis. While Yogourt specializes in merchandising and lifting heavy things, Lewis specializes in running over heavy defenders, but they both have tremendous power. Lewis finished third in the CFL with 1,209 receiving yards in 2011, and he's been amazingly consistent, putting up over 1,000 receiving yards in every one of his nine CFL seasons (all with Calgary). He's only 30, so he's certainly not as old as Yogourt, but he's the key wise veteran on this team, and he'll be crucial in leading Tate and Cornish to success.
It's going to be an interesting year for the Stampeders, as they're trying to reload with younger talent while still remaining competitive. They're in a division with the defending Grey Cup champion B.C. Lions (who look to be formidable again), but it does help that Edmonton and Saskatchewan also look to be in at least partial transition years. Still, making it to the title game is never easy, and that's even tougher when you're relying heavily on guys like Tate and Cornish who don't have a massive amount of experience as CFL starters. It's possible Calgary can figure out a winning combination, but it's likely to be slightly more difficult than "1-2-3-4-5".
Prediction: 10-8, second in the West, loss in the West Final.