55 Yard Line - CFL

One of the big stories today was Arash Madani's Sportsnet piece on the 2002 Alouettes and the craziness they got up to during Grey Cup week. The whole thing is well worth a read, especially for parts like this:

We woke up Grey Cup Sunday and heard someone screaming in the hallway," recalled Adriano Belli, then a young, towering Montreal Alouettes defensive tackle. "I opened the door of the hotel room and there was Lawrence Phillips, in his underwear, in the hallway screaming, "We're gonna kick their ass... we're gonna (expletive) up those (expletive).

"And everybody came out in the hallway, standing there, and looked at one another and was like, ‘You're goddamn right we are. Let's go do this.'"

This current Alouettes' team doesn't seem too likely to get up to similar hijinxs, but you might as well hear that from the horse's mouth. At the Alouettes' media availability today at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium, I asked quarterback Anthony Calvillo (pictured above during a media scrum), one of three holdovers from the 2002 campaign (the others are receiver Ben Cahoon and guard Scott Flory) about how the team's approach has changed since those days. He said much of the change has come from the shift in head coaches, as the way the legendary Don Matthews ran the ship in 2002 is considerably different from how Marc Trestman (who's accomplished plenty in his own right) runs it these days.

"It's pretty amazing how you really feed off of your head coach and what he wants the team to be," Calvillo said. "With Don Matthews, he didn't care what you did. As long as you showed up on game day and were ready, you could do whatever you want. And it worked for us! With Marc, it's a different story; I mean, when you're making a scene and making it about yourself, he's going to bring you into the room and say ‘Listen, it ain't about you, it's about the team.' Guys have bought into that."

Calvillo said that doesn't mean Trestman clamps down on everything, but he emphasizes ensuring that every player's actions support the team.

"For us we do have a couple of guys that do talk and they're not going to stop, and that's Jamel Richardson and Avon Cobourne, but that's part of their character. We all accept that. For us, we know what our team's all about. It's a different team this year from what it was last year, and even going back to 2002."

It wouldn't be completely accurate to paint Trestman and his group of Alouettes as a no-fun-allowed, always-disciplined group, even if they may seem that way next to the 2002 batch. Trestman won't be clamping down on his players' off-field activities, and unlike his counterpart Ken Miller, he isn't even imposing a curfew. Still, this is largely a group that's been there and done that, so don't expect them to get too wild. They're not bored of the experience yet, however; Calvillo said there's still plenty of thrills to be found in going to the Grey Cup despite all his previous trips to the game.

"We're excited about this opportunity, and we always try to stress to the guys on our team that this is a unique experience, even though we've beenI don't want to say spoiledto be here, because we earned every trip here. It is a difficult game to get to, it's a difficult game to win, so let's appreciate everything."

He said that past Grey Cup experience may prove valuable for the Alouettes, as they won't get blown away by the week's zaniness and off-field distractions.

"These weeks are crazy, and you really have to manage your time," he said. "As the years go along, you really learn to handle these things."

Calvillo (pictured, right) said intense preparation will be essential for his success because of the Riders' multitude of blitz packages and unconventional defensive looks.

"They're really not giving you base defences," he said.

Calvillo said he's confident in his offensive line's ability to protect him Sunday, though, noting their dramatic improvement this year after a rocky beginning.

"It started off kind of tough, to be honest with you," he said. "Our left guard situation wasn't really solidified until halfway through this year. ... There were times on the field when I didn't even know who was in front of me."

One man who was definitely not in front of Calvillo this season is veteran centre Bryan Chiu, who made the decision to retire just before training camp this summer, ending an incredible stint with the Alouettes that began in 1997. Chiu now works for the Concordia Stingers as their offensive line coach and assistant offensive coordinator. He's in town covering the Grey Cup for Rogers Sportsnet, and took a few minutes to talk about how it feels to be on the sidelines rather than on the field.

"It's actually really cool to see my buddies out here with the opportunity to play and the opportunity to repeat as champions," Chiu said. "I couldn't be happier for them."

Chiu said he doesn't have second thoughts about walking away before the season and missing the chance to play in another Grey Cup.

"Not at all, not at all," he said. "I walked away on my terms as a champion, the way I wanted to do it. I don't regret anything."

Chiu said his shift to coaching at the CIS level has been very fulfilling.

"I'm really enjoying it," he said. "It's an honour."

He said he figured there was a good chance Montreal could get back to the Grey Cup, but knew it was his time to leave.

"I'm just so happy for these guys," he said. "I knew Montreal was capable of making another run at it."

Someone else who thought Montreal always had a chance to get there is aforementioned receiver Jamel Richardson, which isn't particularly surprising given his confidence. Richardson, who finished fourth in the league with 1,271 receiving yards on a league-high 97 catches, had high praise for his fellow receivers Wednesday and was particularly appreciative of running back Avon Cobourne's receiving skills. In addition to his 956 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns and 5.2 yards-per-carry average, Cobourne has been a weapon in the aerial game as well, catching 64 passes for 556 yards and a touchdown.

"He's our X-factor out there, him coming out of the backfield and taking on linebackers," Richardson said.

What's perhaps more surprising was the high regard Richardson holds Saskatchewan's offence in, particularly the receiving corps.

"They have a great, experienced group of guys over there," Richardson said.

He had plenty of praise for Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant as well.

"He's a playmaker," Richardson said. "He's one of the top quarterbacks in the league."

Richardson said one key element of Sunday's game may be if the Alouettes can stay disciplined.

"This year, we kind of got off track," he said. "We had a lot of penalties this year. Going into Sunday's game, we've got to be penalty-free, stop all the unnecessary roughnesses and all that. We've got to play fundamentally-sound football to win this game."

Richardson (pictured at right dumping Gatorade on Trestman after the Alouettes' East Final victory) said discipline is sure to be the focus of many of the coach's talks with the team this week.

"He's all about discipline," Richardson said. "That's somebody you want to play for. His whole objective is to win."

Richardson said Trestman's detail-oriented approach has been passed on to the rest of the team.

"Every little thing matters," he said. "That's something he's instilled in all of us."

Like everyone else, Richardson's heard the rumours about Trestman perhaps leaving for Minnesota, but he doesn't put a lot of stock in them.

"If he says it's nothing to worry about, it's nothing to worry about," Richardson said.

For now, he's putting all that aside to focus on getting ready for Sunday.

"It's going to be a great game," he said. "I can't wait."

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