To win the Grey Cup, you have to put the time and the work in. That’s a given regardless of who you ask in this league. True champions will tell you that you never stop working 365 days of the year towards that goal. But if you really want to put a start date on when you start working for that championship, one can easily start with opening day of training camp. It’s an exciting time, as both veterans are eager to keep their spot in the lineup theirs & rookies are coming to unseat those veterans & carve out a place of their own on the team.
On Sunday June 5th, the Montreal Alouettes officially opened their training camp in Sherbrooke, QC. A quiet college town about 2 hours east of Montreal, it’s the ideal place for these guys to go over the plans laid out by Marc Trestman & his coaching staff without any major distraction. Having attended the last 2 opening days of camp, I can say that coming to training camp is a must for all football fans. Here’s my thoughts on the 2011 Alouettes training camp:
Living in the Ottawa area, a trip to Sherbrooke is definitely an overnight affair. One thing I noticed upon exploring the city itself that Saturday; it’s a very peaceful city. I won’t call it boring, but let’s just say thank goodness there was a Stanley Cup hockey game to watch at the hotel bar that night. And I can say without doubt that no one in Sherbrooke wants Boston to win the Stanley Cup.
Sunday morning, the team hits the field! And us lucky fans who made the trip get to see it all too. The exciting part for me was being able to encounter all sorts of people associated with the team, be they fans or media people. It was great to rub shoulders with a lot of these folks, learn a lot of what’s been going on. I find it only enhances the CFL experience & allows you to really connect with your team.
For example, learning right away that former NFL superstar Ahman Green was already cut for showing up to camp with a hamstring injury. This was a surprise as he was expected to compete for the RB position that was left empty with the departure of fan favourite Avon Cobourne. The news spread like wildfire & disappointed the Green Bay Packer fans I saw at camp, hoping to see their former hero.
Also noteworthy was the absence of retired legend Ben Cahoon, not just by the fans but also Anthony Calvillo. He admitted that he wasn’t used to not seeing the reliable presence of Cahoon on the field with him. As well as being travel partners & dinnermates, AC/BC was a combo legendary for maintaining the winning Alouettes tradition. I have to admit, it’s gonna be weird this year not shouting “CAAAHHOOOOONNNN!!!” after watching #86 make yet another highlight reel catch.
In addition to watching the team going through their drills there was side events for the little kids as well, who maybe can’t quite appreciate watching the players run their routes & such. Face-painting, relay races & other events to keep their minds entertained. They also had merchandise for sale and in my opinion, this is where the Alouettes organization really dropped the ball.
They had a couple caps, t-shirts & footballs available for sale…. but cash only. Normally the team carries a wide variety of merch to sell, some even at clearance prices. And it’s kinda sad that in 2011, we can’t have a credit card/Interac terminal when this wasn’t a problem before. I understand the team is in the midst of an upheaval with regards to selling their wares. But this was a missed opportunity if there was one.
Also surprising was that there was no more Alouettes cheerleader calendar for sale this year. I’ve never purchased one, but understand how important the sales are to the ladies, as it finances their annual trip to the Grey Cup. Hopefully they can figure something else out.
After the drills were done, the fans were officially introduced to team dignitaries such as new Alouettes president Ray Lalonde & architect of the last 2 Grey Cup winning teams, general manager Jim Popp. Then the coaching staff led by Marc Trestman got a rousing round of applause. Finally, the stars of the show: the players.
For those in attendance, this was the best part of the camp. With Sharpies in hand, the players were ready to greet their fans, sign some autographs & pose for pictures. This is where the CFL really stands out; being able to get up close & personal is a treat like no other. I’m not really an autograph sort, but I do enjoy meeting these guys & being able to chat with them about anything & everything.
Among the notables in talking with players, I was very impressed with Dwight Anderson. Voted last year by the other CFL players as the best trash-talker in the league, I came away very pleased with his demeanor & his excitement to play in Montreal. Apparently the team’s reputation for winning speaks for itself.
Another who was ready to prove himself was Sean Whyte, who the Alouettes brought in to replace Damon Duval as the placekicker. Very chill to chat with, he was blown away with the Alouettes fanbase; absolutely impressed with the energy level. I can tell by the smile on his face that he’s looking to make a long-term impact.
In speaking with Marc Trestman, I’m amazed at how down-to-earth & gracious he is. He’s not a yeller or screamer, but carries himself with a calm demeanor that commands respect. His contract is up after next season & the NFL rumours will swirl yet again. If he does decide to go that route, the team that lands him will be truly blessed like we have been for the past 3 seasons. The man knows how to win & get people to follow his vision.
And just like that, the day draws to a close. If you missed out, the team will do practices every morning & they are open to the public. I doubt there will be as much fanfare as opening day but if you get a chance, do go check it out. It’ll serve to only whet your appetite for CFL action.
Only 10 days until the first pre-season game at Percival Molson Stadium vs. Winnipeg…Can’t wait!