Calgary fans were robbed of a fitting farewell in March 2013 when the Flames traded longtime captain Jarome Iginla to the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was disqualified from his last game in Calgary and did not return to the Saddledome for another 107 days, then a member of the Boston Bruins.
More recently, Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew Tkachuk, and Sean Monahan all left town through free agency and trade without any sort of fan interaction or appreciation.
Luckily for Stampeders fans, the longtime face of their franchise was able to get the love and attention it deserved before likely leaving town for other occasions.
The Stampeders ran recklessly over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Saturday, amassing 310 yards on the ground on their way to a 36-10 win in front of 25,179 fans, many dressed in green. In every way, the game served as the backdrop for Mitchell’s farewell as it meant nothing in the standings.
The high point of the evening came late in the fourth quarter when Mitchell snapped what was likely his last shot in a Stampeders uniform at McMahon Stadium.
The bump in the stands started behind the bench and like a wave across the stadium, fans rose in unison to celebrate a great franchise with cheers befitting a man who led this team to four Gray Cup games and won twice .
They applauded the man who has thrown more yards, completed more passes and won more games than any quarterback wearing the red and white. In fact, up to this point in his career, Mitchell has won a better percentage of his games than any other quarterback ever.
He posted a 90-25-2 record in 117 games as a starter with a 76.9 percent win rate. The man considered by most to be the greatest CFL quarterback of all time, Doug Flutie, sits 74.6 percent behind Bo with a 94-32 record in 126 starts.
After the game, the man himself was grateful for the love that the fans showed him.
“It meant a lot to me. I appreciate (Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson) and (general manager John Hufnagel) for the way they handled the situation. It was great to experience this moment with the fans and my teammates.”
With that, Mitchell also acknowledges that it may not have been how he wanted to leave the field at McMahon.
“It’s bittersweet. Of course I would have loved it in different circumstances but either way I loved every second I was here and hopefully we can bring a Gray Cup back to town before I leave.”
Some fans, including this reporter, were disappointed that Mitchell’s only contribution was saving the ball in the dying minutes and his last home appearance didn’t include an attempted pass.
“I almost named my own piece there,” Mitchell said, chuckling. “(Dickenson) even said, ‘Honestly, I expected it from you.’ “But I knew we were racing almost 300 yards and I wanted to make sure we could do it. I wanted to call my own passing game but I didn’t want to be selfish at the moment.”
From his standpoint, Dickenson allowed Mitchell to have some latitude in game selection.
“Bo and I, when we had our talks, we sort of had a plan. Bo is here to help us win games. He doesn’t look for an extra shot. Every run we submitted has what we call “out of jails”. If looks are what he wants or the flash is there, he might be able to do some other things, but it hasn’t shown.
Mitchell expressed some concerns about throwing the ball due to the presence of another player who called Calgary home for much of his Hall of Fame career.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people and said if Dave puts me in I’ll just throw the ball down. But I think Charleston (Hughes) knew that too, so I think Charleston was waiting for me to do that,” Mitchell said.
A rare moment of hilarity between the former teammates occurred during the victory formation at the end of the game.
“I told him at the last piece to get a sack. Try to get him one last one. He said he’ll be back next year, but he’s about 48 years old. But it was great to see him out there.”
For a man, everyone who spoke about Mitchell this week did so with awe.
“I’m glad it happened,” Dickenson said after the game. “Bo made it clear that he didn’t need this moment, but he deserved it and deserved it.”
The only thing Dickenson regretted was the timing of the move.
“I wish I had put Tommy in and then called timeout and then put Bo in because I think the fans saw there was 19 in play, but it would have been nice to give him that little extra moment.”
Stampeders linebacker Jameer Thurman was among the first to start gesturing to the crowd as Bo headed to his first scrum of the game, letting fans know it was time to show their love one last time .
“He has done a lot for this city, this organization and also many players. I think everyone should show support and be thankful because they’ve won a lot here.”
Running back Dedrick Mills knew of Mitchell’s reputation before he came to Calgary and said he lived up to it absolutely.
“It’s a very exciting moment to be here with Bo and actually to be on the same team as Bo. Even before I got here I heard he was great, he’s a legend here, he’s a future Hall of Famer. I’m just really happy to be on the same team.”
Another young player who learned at the champion’s feet this season was Tommy Stevens, who threw his first touchdown pass of the game and amassed 163 rushing yards with just four carries and earned a play point that was picked up by offensive team Captain Bo Levi was presented to Mitchell.
“Bo has been great to me since I first arrived in Calgary,” Stevens said. “One of my favorite teammates I’ve ever had and he’s a special man. He’s just something special.”
“Obviously you can tell what he means to this community and this league. He’s just a great teammate. I am glad that I was able to experience him, spend some time with him and learn from him. Again, I think it’s obvious what he means to this league and this community, I just can’t say enough good things about him.”
Interviews over the past few days have made it clear that Mitchell is unlikely to retire and that several teams are interested in signing the veteran passer. So there’s a good chance Stampeders fans will get another chance to send some sound Mitchell’s direction.
It’s perhaps a lot less friendly than McMahon was on that occasion, and that required it.
It gave fans a chance to say goodbye in a way most never do in the cold business of professional sports. It was a catharsis for thousands of loyalists who, together, in moments felt all the warmth of a decade of dominance.
I’m glad I went there. I’m glad he came in one last time, if only to pass it on in a way that was emblematic of his career: putting the team before him.
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