CFL Pass


Back home in Thousand Oaks, Calif., enjoying a few days of R&R on a bye week for his Philadelphia Eagles, Alex Singleton is lapping up the rays.

The temperature this Tuesday reads 89 degrees Fahrenheit. Not a gossamer-thin wisp of cloud to mar a brilliant blue sky.

By contrast, the crystal-ball forecast locally for West Semi-Final Sunday at McMahon Stadium reads partly cloudy and a frost-tinged high of minus-12 Celcius.

And yet a part of Singleton’s competitive being still feels he belongs here, especially given the time of year and the stakes.

“Oh, yeah,’’ the former Calgary Stampeder linchpin linebacker admits. “There’s still that pull. That tug. Of course. I guess there always will be.

“I talk to those guys every week, some of them every day. We text back and forth.

“So of course you want to be out there, too, going to battle with them, winning with them, being a part of that. I know that locker room. I know how much fun it is in there. I know how ready they are, how committed they are to being the best.

“Those are still my guys.”

Sunday, as Singleton prepares to head back to Philly, the Stamps begin a quest for back-to-back Grey Cup championships.

Their path to a fourth consecutive title-game appearance would be a week longer than usual, needing to first subdue the Winnipeg Blue Bombers here on Sunday before venturing into the belly of the green-skinned beast, Mosaic Stadium.

The Grey Cup, of course, is set for McMahon Stadium on Nov. 24.

“It’s kinda funny,’’ muses Singleton. “My three years we had the bye into the West final. Now, it seems they find themselves in an underdog role.

“Everyone, for whatever reasons, just wants to look the other way on Calgary.

“Well, if anybody bothers to look at who’s still playing quarterback, there should never be assumption or a question.

“For what Bo’s done over the course of his career … how many games has he lost?

“If I’m betting, I’m still betting on Bo. He wins. That’s what he does.”

Since being elevated from the practice roster on Oct. 16th, Singleton has played in the Eagles last three fixtures, versus the Cowboys, Bills and Bears.

“It’s funny but the first game I got to play in was at Dallas a couple weeks ago, Sunday night, in that stadium. But knowing myself and having that expectation the last five years, that knowledge, that I could do it, I could play here, I actually was more calm than nervous: I felt I was finally doing what I should be doing.

“Of course it’s easier being THAT guy, the guy I was in Calgary, the guy everything goes through. You can relax a little more in practice. Now I do scout cards for the offence, get some reps on defence and also going full speed on special teams in practice.

“But it’s fun. I’m where I want to be. If you don’t enjoy the grind, you shouldn’t be in the game.”

Given the number of high-profile departures – Singleton front and centre among them – his former team has be forced to grind more than ever in compiling 12-6 record before securing home-field for the division semi-final.

“People say there aren’t many big names anymore,’’ tut-tuts Singleton. “But Tre (Roberson) has come into his own. You watch Wyn (Wynton McManis), and he’s dominated at whatever position he’s played. Hopefully Cory (Greenwood) is back this week. He’s been out awhile but for a long time there I was thinking he’d break every tackling record I’d set there the last two years.

“The guys are doing the right things. (Brent) Monson isn’t (DeVone) Claybrooks so maybe the defence doesn’t get talked about as much but if you look at the numbers, they’re doing just fine.

“There are a lot reasons why I like their chances of winning it all again.”

Ranking high among them the emotional resonance provided by long-standing, 34-year-old DB Brandon Smith announcing his decision to retire at season’s close.

“Smitty,’’ says Singleton, “is one of my best friends. I mean, he’s one of the reasons I got stitches in my face. ‘Cause we ran into each other so hard on one play that my face mask squeezed my face so hard it busted my cheek open.

“Even now, after a game where he has, say, only two tackles, I’ll text him and say: ‘What? You not competin’ anymore?’ And he’ll fire back at me.

“He’s been in Calgary for 12 years, and this is a guy who dominated at that boundary half, one of the hardest positions to play in football, at any level.

“How many corners have come to Calgary and been all-CFL playing on Smitty’s side? Just about every single one of them. How many Will linebacker have played in front of him and been all-CFL? Same.

“Why? Because they trusted the guy playing alongside them.

“Smitty’s the common denominator.

“It’ll be fun watching these – hopefully – next three games because nobody in the world deserves another Grey Cup as much as he does.”

Given the break in the Eagles schedule, there had been some chatter that maybe Singleton – an unabashed Stampeder backer now and forever – would jet in to catch the tilt live.

“If the game had been Saturday, I could’ve,’’ he explains. “But I can’t really fly back after a Sunday night game in Calgary and get to Philly in time.

“So I figured I’d stay out of the minus-12 weather in favour of the plus-27.

“I couldn’t have seen the guys much anyway. These next three weeks, with a chance to win a home Grey Cup, this being Smitty’s last year, all the stuff going … let them focus, let them do what they need to. They don’t need any additional distractions.”

The Eagles will be hosting Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots a week from Sunday, when the Stampeders hope to have advanced to Regina. And they’ll welcoming Seattle to Lincoln Financial Field on Grey Cup Sunday.

No. 49 in Eagles’ green, though busy, will be keeping tabs nonetheless, you can wager large.

“If they can do it, win again, it’d be amazing thing for the city, of course, but also for a lot of guys who have stepped up big-time this year – Reggie (Begelton), for instance. On defence, Mike Rose. So many others.

“For those guys to be a major parts of a repeat Grey Cup, especially with the game being in Calgary, it’d be pretty special.

“It’ll be bittersweet watching them, but I’ll be tuned in this weekend, and I’m sure they’ll take care of business like they should.”


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