Stampeders and Micah Johnson eagerly anticipating reunion
When Micah Johnson speaks with the media about his former Calgary Stampeders teammates, there’s no malice in his words.
He has no interest in taking away from what he and the Stamps accomplished during his six-year stint in Calgary. Anything he said Thursday in Regina was said with affection and respect for guys who remain among his closest friends.
Don’t expect him to be quite so kind with his words on Saturday night when he faces off against the Stamps as a member of the Saskatchewan Roughriders, though.
“Oh man, Micah is going to talk so much crap the whole game,” said Stamps kick returner Terry Williams. “I’m waiting for it, that’s my boy forever. He’s the enemy on the field now, but that’s my dawg. I know he’s going to talk his smack.”
The trash talk has already started through text and is sure to continue right until the end of Saturday’s game in Regina. At that point, the conversations will likely go back to what they’ve been all off-season and through training camp.
While Johnson might be lining up for the hated Riders on Saturday, there’s no ill will between him and the Stampeders.
Through his six years with Calgary, Johnson emerged not only as the CFL’s most dominant defensive tackle, but also as one of the leaders in the Stamps locker room.
He had 158 defensive tackles and 41 sacks with the team, and his 14-sack season in 2018 had him on the top of many voters’ lists for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player.
He was a vocal part of a series of defensive lines that dominated the league and went to four Grey Cups in five years, and the friendships he formed in those years transcend football rivalries.
“The relationships are bigger than football,” Johnson said. “Those are my boys, we talk all the time. We’ve been messing with each other going back-and-forth and when we get out there it’s going to be all business, we understand that, but I talk to the guys all the time back there. We’ve kept in close contact.”
Friendships aside, it should be fascinating to see how Johnson and the Stamps fare going up against one another.
For six years, Johnson lined up on the other side of the line at practice against Stampeders offensive lineman Shane Bergman, who happens to be as effective a guard as just about anyone in the CFL.
Johnson may also find himself against second-year right guard Ryan Sceviour, but one way or another there’s a familiarity that could make things interesting.
“It’s respect across the board, it’s just a little bit different in the regard that they know me well and they know my strengths and weaknesses, and vice versa,” Johnson said. “It’s really going to be a good matchup. I’m expecting a big-time fight from them and I think they expect that from me, as well.”
The Stamps definitely do expect a fight from Johnson. A rock ’em, sock ’em heavyweight fight, specifically.
“Hell yeah, I’ve never played him in a game, ever,” Bergman said. “I was his teammate for six years and I’m excited to actually pad up against him. He’s a great athlete and a great player and I’m excited to compete against him. It’s always exciting to compete against the best.”
While there’s no doubt that playing against so many friends and former teammates will make Saturday night a little extra special for Johnson, he insisted that at this point in the season he’s more worried about impressing his new teammates with the Riders than his old ones.
Johnson has been playing well for the Riders so far, but still doesn’t have a sack and isn’t trying to pretend that doesn’t bother him a little bit.
He’d surely have loved to open his 2019 account by sacking Stamps QB Bo Levi Mitchell, but the uncertain status of the reigning CFL Most Outstanding Player means Johnson probably won’t get the chance to do that.
If it’s Nick Arbuckle instead, that’s not going to bother him.
“To be honest, at this point I’ll sack anybody,” Johnson said. “I’m just trying to get one on the board.”
The Stampeders’ injury situation and the departure of so many defensive players in the off-season also means that there will be a tonne of new faces in Red & White. Running back Don Jackson had already reached out and let Johnson know he was looking forward to talking trash to him, but a concussion is keeping him out of the lineup.
How the new bodies affect the Stamps on Saturday is unclear, but Johnson said it can be a challenge.
“What they have right now with the Stampeders is a lot of turnover,” Johnson said. “They’re trying to get acquainted with each other, trying to get their flow. There’s a lot of moving pieces and that’s a big part of football that people overlook, the chemistry in the room and the familiarity with each other. It’s something they’re having to grow, and same thing with us.”
One thing that won’t happen on Saturday is the Stamps presenting Johnson with his 2018 Grey Cup ring. The two teams met in pre-season, and while Johnson didn’t make the trip to Calgary, the Stamps did give his ring to the Riders and they presented it to him when they returned to Regina.
“I’ve got it stashed away, it was real impressive,” Johnson said. “I was real proud of that and especially when you compare it to the ring from 2014, it’s night and day.”