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Grey Cup champs loading up for elusive three-peat

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As I watched the free-agency frenzy in the CFL punch itself out over the last week, I realized that the only thing that has jumped off the page for me this entire off-season -- thus far -- was that the Montreal Alouettes appear to be positioning themselves for a shot at becoming only the third team in CFL history to ever win three Grey Cups in sequential order.

To date, in the 98 years of history in the Canadian Football League, only the Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton Eskimos have ever won three Grey Cups in a row. Toronto did it from 1945 to 1947 and Edmonton did it twice, including a five-year stretch that may never be matched in any era, from 1978 to 1982.

Winnipeg came close, once winning four Grey Cups in five years, but never the elusive three-peat.

Of course, it's implicit that in an eight-team league you load up for bear and a cup run at the start of every season. But there comes a time when teams get too old and too experienced and have to jettison some of the veteran players that they have had success with in order to avoid mortgaging their future.

In our recent history, it's similar to the age and salary dump the Bombers facilitated in 2004-05, after having a degree of success from 2001 to 2003, that probably contributed to our return to the Grey Cup game in 2007.

With what I have seen from Als general manager Jim Popp this off-season, though, it looks to me like he is convinced he can squeeze at least one more championship out of his nucleus that has already won two by adding some players that definitely will not be expected to pay dividends for more than a season.

In free agency, the Als raised some eyebrows by winning a bidding war for 29-year-old defensive back Dwight Anderson, but that is not evidence enough of a final push for a trifecta. They also re-signed their own linebacker Ramon Guzman, gave Yvenson Bernard a contract and signed Canadian safety Tad Crawford; all deals that give them depth and competition at multiple positions but don't necessarily reveal what I suspect is a master plan of dynastic proportions.

The moment the Alouettes started signing veteran ringers from the NFL is the moment I concluded that 2011 was not going to be the year they began regrouping and retooling for the not-so-immediate future.

Ahmed Green, who the Als signed just over two weeks ago, is 34 years old, which in running-back years, due to the pounding they take and the physicalities of the position, makes him even older than I.

Green is the career rushing leader for the Green Bay Packers, a four-time Pro Bowler and a former NFC offensive player of the year. I don't think he was signed with the idea that he would carry the ball for the Als over the next five seasons.

Also, on the night free agency opened, the Alouettes signed wide receiver Jerry Porter. Porter is a less decorated player than Green but younger at 32, and still a nine-year NFL veteran whose last contract he penned in 2008 had $10 million in guaranteed money.

At 6-2 and 220 pounds, Porter is the prototypical receiver the Alouettes look for. They love the big, strong wideouts that can catch the quick, short passes from Calvillo and carry the smaller CFL defensive backs for six or seven yards a reception.

Not only does this style of play protect Calvillo by getting the ball out of his hands, but it is the matchup they thrive on: Big on little, and an up-tempo ball-control offence.

As much as we will soon discover if the skill sets of these two former NFL constellations are well suited for the CFL game or not (Ricky Williams's were not), another determinant of their successes or failures will, as usual, be the attitude and humility they bring with them to the CFL as they adapt to and learn a new style of game.

You won't hear the Alouettes talk about "dynasties" or "three-peating" at all this year, I suspect. Marc Trestman doesn't have a single iota of Rex Ryan in him and he tries to keep his teams as reserved and contrite as his personality befits -- and he doesn't need to say anything.

The moves being made by this ball club in 2011 tell all the rest of us what the Alouettes are thinking loud and clear, and we better be ready to navigate the Eastern Division gauntlet they are getting ready to throw down.


Doug Brown, always a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2011 C2

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