Soft-spoken and unassuming, Evan McCollough goes about his business in relative anonymity.
There are no highlight- reel interception returns for touchdowns, no bulletin-board material to get under an opponent’s skin, no reason to seek him out for any colourful quotes.
But McCollough is good at what he does, suddenly emerging as the veteran piece in a Ticats secondary that will have its hands full covering Saskatchewan’s passing game.
The task is made even more difficult with Kory Sheets expected to carry most of the offensive burden on Sunday for the Roughriders.
There’s no such thing as a balanced offence if a ground game isn’t established, no reason to even attempt play action if a successful run game isn’t achieved.
The Ticats plan to load up the box to stop Sheets and then take their chances by having Darian Durant beat them with his arm.
If Durant is able to extend plays with his feet or use his legs to move the chains, a rather long night is in store for the Ticats.
Containing Sheets along the ground and keeping Durant in the pocket are the two biggest issues facing the Ticats heading into Sunday’s big game.
“They try to get big plays when they pass the ball,’’ said McCollough. “They’re a run- first team. You’ve got to stop Sheets before you do anything. He’s going to run the ball 25, 30 times a game. That’s almost half a game for a defence.
“All the other times when they pass the ball, they want to take a shot into the end zone. They try to get one of those big explosion plays. As a DB this game, you’re going to have to be able to play in the box and defend the run. As a DB, you have to play the pass first, but you have to be aware of the run.”
His positional coach in Toronto was Orlondo Steinauer, Hamilton’s defensive co-ordinator who helped lure McCullogh to Hammer during free agency.
There is no Grey Cup experience to talk about in Hamilton’s defence. McCollough is the exception, a halfback with excellent man coverage technique who is athletic and who has a high football IQ.
“I view my role basically as letting the guys know how the week will go and that we’ll have to be meeting more because there isn’t much meeting time with all the festivities going on,’’ said McCollough. “Our coaches have done a great job of stressing that.
“As a group, it’s up to us as a defence, or the guys on offence, to take the initiative and have meetings on our own.”
Having been in the CFL for only four years, this year’s trip to the Grey Cup represents McCollough’s second, a journey not lost on him.
“I’m definitely more relaxed,’’ he said. “I was just here and to think about that is just amazing.
“It’s a blessing to be able to come here back-to-back and not having been in this league that long. A lot of these guys have not been to this level. It’s still a great experience for me, especially to be on two different teams.”
There was no weather to worry about last year as McCollough played all three playoff games indoors.
“For practice, whatever you’ve got, shoot, just put it on,’’ said McCollough of practising outdoors in Regina. “You don’t have the same adrenalin as you have in a game.
“The cold affects you more in practice. Come game time, your adrenalin runs and you’re playing for that ring, whether it’s cold, hot, whatever. If it’s minus-25, they’ve (Roughriders) got to play in it as well.”
REGINA — The Argos rode a late-season wave of momentum a year ago, all the way to a Grey Cup title.
The Tiger-Cats are hoping to borrow the same script from their arch-rivals, only this one is much more daunting.
The Argos found their groove in Regina in the regular schedule’s penultimate game, knocking off the host Roughriders 31-26 in the cold to lock up a home playoff berth.
Toronto then played three straight indoor post-season games, capped off by the 100th Grey Cup played at home.
“We’re a bunch of fighters,’’ said veteran Ticat receiver Dave Stala. “It’s not like we’re beating up teams. We’re finding ways to win and we’re playing our best football at the end of the year and that’s what you want from a football club.”
In playoff wins over the Als and the Argos, the Ticats came back from deficits in each. The East semi against Montreal went into overtime, while the Ticats went into overdrive in knocking off the Argos last week in the East final.
Talk about a ringing endorsement, Ticats offensive co-ordinator Orlondo Steinauer is proudly displaying his Grey Cup ring from last season at every function this week.
“It’s a celebration of the CFL,’’ said Steinauer. “It’s fun. A lot of people haven’t seen one, a lot of people haven’t touched one. I’m proud of it and I basically brought it out for other people.
“It’s really not for me. The response you get from other people: ‘Oh, my gosh, can I see it? I’ll give them mine and allow them to take a picture of it and they are in awe.
“So, why not let everyone be involved in the Grey Cup celebration and I’m doing my little part by letting people enjoy it.”
Steinauer doesn’t wear his ring at practices, but he did at Thursday’s team breakfast and wherever his travels take him in Regina when three-football is being celebrated.
“I wore it on the airplane to start it off,’’ said Steinauer, who served as defensive backs coach for the Argos last season. “I just want the men to soak it up or any of the fans who may or may have seen it and let them enjoy it.”
On a personal level, the ring brings Steinauer to a special team and place in his football career.
“Unbelievable,’’ said Steinauer of his memories of last year’s run. “I had a great time with that staff and those group of men in Toronto. The 100th Grey Cup, etcetera, just so proud to be etched in history with those guys forever, being the 100th Grey Cup winners in Toronto as a team with a lot of pressure, seeing B.C. did it a year before and so why can’t you?
“The 100th Grey, the pressure Scott (Milanovich), Jim (Barker) and Chris Jones were under, yeah, it’s special and this (ring) does remind me of that and it also reminds me that you don’t come to this game to lose. You want to win.
“I was fortunate to go as player in back-to-back Grey Cups and now as a coach, it’s just an awesome feeling.”
REGINA — It was in the giddy aftermath of Super Bowl XXXII when Broncos owner Pat Bowlen took to the podium and uttered the words: “This one’s for John.”
Bob Young will never be confused with John Elway, and he’ll have no bearing on whether the Ticats beat the Roughriders in Sunday’s Grey Cup.
But anyone who has followed the plight of the Ticats will agree that ‘This one’s for Bob’ should be proclaimed if Hamilton prevails.
“Bob will be the first to tell you it’s about the team and not about Bob,’’ said Ticats CEO Scott Mitchell of the team’s owner/caretaker. “It’s about the players and coaches who have put in all the hard work this year.
“No question he’s the best owner in sports that I know and I’ve been involved in sports everywhere in North America. He’s awesome, he gives you every possible resource to be successful, is just an incredibly positive person, great family.
“What’s that expression, good people deserve good things. And he’s been able to enjoy this (moment).”
REGINA — Grey Cup memories never get old, seldom, if ever, fade away and at times are reborn when the football calendar hits late November.
For Paul Osbaldiston, there are many recollections, but one that sticks out date backs to 1986, when the veteran-laden Ticats played the high-powered Edmonton Eskimos at B.C. Place.
As far as underdogs go, Osbaldiston fondly recalls the hyped up Eskimos and their quarterback trio of Matt Dunigan, Tracy Ham and Damon Allen.
Saskatchewan isn’t nearly as deep as the Edmonton triumvirate, but the Roughriders are expected to beat up on Hamilton this Sunday, much like the Eskimos were poised to skin the Ticats.
“They were a really, really good football team with a great offence,’’ began Osbaldiston, assistant special teams/kicking coach for this year’s edition of the Ticats. “You look at their quarterbacks and hat’s not a bad crew.
“We had a good veteran group of guys. Our defence was playing the best football it had been playing all year and that’s what won it for us.”
Hamilton shocked the CFL world by pasting the Eskimos 39-15, giving owner Harold Ballard arguably the greatest sporting moment of his life.
Osbaldiston was named most valuable Canadian, kicking six field goals, including five in the first half.
On any given day, as the saying goes, any team can win, no matter the odds, regardless of what the pundits happen to be pontificating about in the build-up to game day.
“Those are special moments,’’ said Osbaldiston. “We’ve got lots to focus in on right now. We’re here trying to win this year’s Grey Cup.
“The memories always stay with you. And more than anything, it’s about your teammates. I felt best for them, the city and the fans. It was a great day.”
It’ll be even greater this time around if the Ticats can pull off the upset on Sunday.
One of the biggest differences from this team’s team compared to the 1986 club is Grey Cup experience.
The team that takes to the field against the Roughriders is short on championship pedigree, while the 1986 group had been to the big dance in each of the previous two seasons.
Much like 1986, sentiment is on Hamilton’s side given how long the franchise has waited to appear in a Grey Cup.
In fact, no team has endured such a streak of non-Grey Cup appearances than the Ticats, whose last trip came in 1999.