How to be a champion: Banks searching for first Grey Cup

Brandon Banks landed in Regina on Tuesday afternoon trying to figure out how to win a Grey Cup.

That’s the goal for every player getting prepared for the 109th edition of the league’s championship game, of course, but after making it to the big show five times, Banks has found himself wondering how to finally win it.

“I’m just trying to win, that’s it,” said Banks after Wednesday’s practice on a chilly day at Mosaic Stadium. “That’s all I’m focused on. Obviously I’ve been here, this is my fifth Grey Cup, so I’m just trying to figure out how to win.”

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Banks went to the Grey Cup with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in four of the eight years he spent with the club. The first was in 2013 where he and his team lost to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. 2014 was a loss to Edmonton. And how could he forget the back-to-back losses to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the same team he’s set to go up against this weekend, in 2019 and 2021.

“I wish I knew (the key to winning), I would have put it together already,” Banks laughed. “But we’ve just got to be the better team that day. We know what we’re going against. We know what type of team Winnipeg is. They’re a great team. They don’t make mistakes. They’re coached very well. We’ve got to go out there and be damn near perfect. That’s about it. That’s all you can do.”

If he did win it all last year, against those Blue Bombers, Banks says he was likely going to retire. At that point he had just completed his eighth season in the league, and with a championship finally on his football resume, he’s never won a title at any level in his career, it just seemed like the right time to hang up the cleats.

But after losing the Grey Cup in his own backyard, Banks was devastated. And then when the Tiger-Cats decided to move on from the 34-year-old this off-season, he decided he was going to try one more year to get a ring.

So he signed with Toronto, putting off his retirement for at least one more season in hopes he could finally hoist the Grey Cup.

They weren’t exactly eye-popping stats for the five-foot-seven receiver, but that was just how he wanted it.

“I was just having fun,” Banks smiled. “It was no pressure for me. I didn’t have the game plan going in like, oh, I have to catch 13 balls today or make sure I get a punt return. It was just no pressure.”

That sentiment is how Banks has felt this entire season in Toronto. When he spoke with general manager Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons in the off-season, Banks wanted to make sure that the Argos knew he didn’t want to be the “guy” anymore. Not that he didn’t want targets or to contribute to the team. That’s not what he meant at all. He just wanted to slow things down a little bit. He didn’t want to be the F1 car that CFL fans are used to, but instead step into a pace car role. A role with a slower, more practical approach to the game, but still just as important to the overall goal.

Stepping back from the No. 1 receiver has allowed for the rest of his teammates to take the majority of the targets, something that Banks enjoys seeing. Kurleigh Gittens Jr. was the favourite target of McLeod Bethel-Thompson this season, hauling in 1,101 yards and five touchdowns on his way to being nominated for 2022’s Most Outstanding Canadian. DaVaris Daniels was second on the team in receiving with 860 yards. Markeith Ambles was third with 737. And Banks was fourth with 522.

“I feel like this is the first time I’m approaching the game and I feel like I don’t have to do everything,” Banks said. “I’ve got other guys on the team like Kurleigh, Ambles, Andrew (Harris), guys like that. In Hamilton, I just felt like if I didn’t do it, I didn’t know what would happen. It was like it was all on me.”

Banks and his Argonauts only met the Bombers one time this season, back in Week 4. They lost the game 23-22 after Boris Bede missed the game-tying extra point in the dying seconds of the contest.

Now they meet again, in much different weather conditions and in a different stadium, as Banks hopes his team can stop the Winnipeg three-peat and finally get the championship he’s been longing for.

“Obviously I’m feeling good, having fun again,” he admitted. “This team brought the young Speedy B back. I’m having fun again instead of coming to work every day being miserable.”

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