OTTAWA — Before the regular season even started, Rick Campbell had a feeling something special was brewing with his Ottawa Redblacks.
"As we were going through training camp, I just thought there was something about these guys — that they had the right spirit to them, the right fight," the Redblacks head coach said. "I remember going to play that (pre-season) game in Guelph, (Ont., against the Toronto Argonauts) when there's basically very few people watching that game and our guys fought and didn't care that it was a pre-season game and those are just really good traits to have."
Campbell's thoughts were validated last Sunday when the Redblacks hammered the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 46-27 in the CFL East final to advance to the Grey Cup game. The Redblacks met with reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday before flying to Edmonton to begin preparations for Sunday's title tilt against the Calgary Stampeders.
It is Ottawa's third trip to the final in the franchise's five-year history.
Over the course of the season, Campbell and his coaching staff made player decisions that weren't always popular, like sidelining long-serving offensive lineman Jon Gott on the bench.
"I told the guys the day before this last game there's some really good football players that aren't playing in this game, but that's the reason why we are where we are is because we have a lot of talented people here," Campbell said. "The number-one guidepost we try to use around here is what is best for the Redblacks and what gives us the best chance to win."
The Stampeders have been the CFL's standard of excellence in the regular season, but Calgary has struggled to get the job done when it counts. The Stampeders have been the losing side in the last two Grey Cup games despite being heavy favourites.
Calgary, with veteran quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell at the helm, will be considered favourites again on Sunday. But no one should underestimate the Redblacks and Trevor Harris after his performance in the East Final.
Harris put himself in elite company with a record-setting six touchdown passes and a 90.6-per-cent completion rate using ten different receivers.
Sunday will be the 32-year-old's first Grey Cup start.
Harris was nearly thrown into action in 2016 when Henry Burris suffered an injury in warm-up, but moments before kick-off Burris was cleared to play and led Ottawa to a 39-33 overtime victory over Calgary.
Now it's Harris' turn to take the big stage.
"I'm grateful. It's not something I take lightly," he said. "I put my best foot forward every day and prepare my butt off and I'm going to do everything I can this week, just like I always have."
Harris believes much of Ottawa's success has come from attention to detail and how it prepares every week.
"You can talk about intrinsic, extrinsic motivations and that this is their third Grey Cup and they're going to play the underdog role and all that kind of stuff, but everyone knows how good Calgary is," he said. "It's going to all come down to preparation and execution, so we're just going to do that to the best of our abilities."
Ottawa could be without defensive back Jonathan Rose as the league announced his one-game suspension early Tuesday morning. Rose was handed a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty and disqualified for rough play for shoving an official late in the second quarter of the East final.
Rose has appealed his suspension.
Lisa Wallace, The Canadian Press