Mostly, what Dave Sapunjis remembers is the sheer joy, a little-kid sense of swagger and near-invincibility that permeated a season of accomplishment caught and held in time for a team, and a city.
“When I look back on my career,” reminisces the standout home-brew receiver, “I cherish the games I played with (Doug) Flutie, for sure.
“As a receiver, I can’t tell you. It was … so … much … fun.
“And that year, 1992, everything came together.
“When I reflect on all the games I was involved in, whether in mini-football, high school, college or the Stampeders, the games where Doug was running around, trying to find his receivers and giving us time to get open, stand out in my mind.
“It was just … magic.
“Let alone getting paid to do it. And to have fans watching us.
“So it was a gem of a time.”
It’s Legacy Night on Saturday as the ’92 Calgary Stampeders – a team that went 13-5 and then won the championship – is being feted during the current edition’s skirmish against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
A quarter-century has passed since the 24-10 slap-down of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Grey Cup Sunday at SkyDome.
So much was wrapped into that afternoon, that season. The Stamps had not hoisted Earl Grey’s Cup since 1971 and were smarting from a Grey Cup loss the year before to the Toronto Argonauts at the old Winnipeg Stadium.
Signed as a free agent out of BC, the Flutie threw for nearly 6,000 yards over the 18 regular-season games. Allen Pitts hauled in 103 of his passes, Sapjunis 77 more. The Stampeder offence gorged itself on 607 points and a stout defence allowed a league-low 430 points.
“I really don’t think,’’ reckons current GM John Hufnagel, the team’s offensive co-ordinator back in ’92, “that the 21 years was much of an issue at all.
“What bothered us was the fact that we hadn’t done the job the year before. We were committed to finishing the deal. That was the primary objective.
“The fact it was 21 years without a Grey Cup didn’t matter. Could’ve been five. We just had a bad taste in our mouths from the year before.”
The Stamps opened up with a 44-26 pasting of Saskatchewan in Week One and took it from there.
“Going into the season, we really believed we were a championship-calibre team, and then we picked up Flutie,’’ recalls Sapunjis, The Sponge, now president of Continental Oilfield Supply Canada. “We’d been to the Grey Cup the year before and we were satisfied with our quarterback, Danny Barrett, but when we got Doug, you could feel it, the energy went to a new level.
“After you played with him for four or five games and you saw how dominant a player he was.
“In my opinion, he’s the best player to ever play in the league. You add a guy like that …
“Come playoff time, the team was having a lot of fun just being around each other. And it showed.”
After slipping past the Eskimos in the West final 23-22, the Red and White met the 11-7 Blue Bombers in the 80th edition of the Grey Cup.
“I felt the game was always in control,’’ says Sapjunis, who latched on to a 35-yard TD pass from Flutie near the end of the first quarter and won Most Valuable Canadian honours. “As much as the score going into the fourth quarter might’ve allowed Winnipeg to think they were still in it, we felt very in control.
“We never felt we were losing any traction.”
In Hufnagel’s mind, the die was cast early.
“The opening play, when Doug hit Derrick Crawford for a big gain, stands out. He didn’t have the greatest protection but he does what Doug does – he makes plays. That gave us a lot of confidence.
“Offensively, our stats were far better than the points we scored and defensively we made life miserable for (Blue Bomber QB) Matt Dunigan.
“Probably the (Flutie) play that most sticks out in my mind, though, is when we beat Edmonton in the West final (a 23-22 over the Edmonton Eskimos), that last drive and him getting in the end zone minus his shoe.
“Great players do those kinds of things.”
This weekend, 25 years later, a bunch of middle-aged guys gather once again to celebrate that “gem of a time.”
Pee Wee Smith and Matt Finlay, Marvin Pope and Kent Warnock and Ken Moore, Keyvan Jenkins and Junior Thurman and Will Johnson, Duane Forde and Darryl Hall and Flutie.
They’ll all be here to re-connect and relive.
Like some can’t-miss high-school reunion with your best buddies.
“As you get older,’’ muses Sapjunis, “there are things you come to appreciate more and more. As a competitive athlete, when you accomplish something together, you’ll never forget that feat, or the people you experienced it with.
“It’s something you’ll share forever.
“Quite honestly, there’s a bunch of guys who live in Calgary I don’t see that much. So I’m looking forward to spending some time with friends from both here and out of town that shared a highlight in all of our lives that we’re all very proud of.
“I’ll be fun getting caught up, swapping memories, telling old stories and seeing how how their families are and what paths they’ve taken in their lives.
“It’s going to be great.”
Photo by Scott Grant