O’Leary: Mitchell gets comfortable in Hamilton

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HAMILTON — There was always something special about Tim Hortons Field to Bo Levi Mitchell.

In the same way that Mitchell can find a receiver’s extended hands through a tightly contested window, the stands at Tim Hortons are sprinkled with sharp-tongued fans that have lobbed a plethora of perfectly placed heckles at Mitchell and his teammates over his decade-long career.

“They’re one of the best at talking trash, I can tell you that,” Mitchell told CFL.ca on Tuesday, shortly after he’d had his first day on the job with his new team.

“Some of the comments I’ve gotten in the past, you always hear the people in the background and they start to say things and you know it’s not good. It’s pre-game, you’re warming up. Then there are the ones that you randomly hear and it literally makes you laugh, your teammates laugh because they’ve heard it too. You turn around and respect the guy, give them the head nod. That’s happened a lot of times here in Hamilton.”

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The Tiger-Cats announced earlier in the day that they’d come to terms with Mitchell on a three-year deal that will keep him with the team through the 2025 season. In Tiger Town, Mitchell could be walking into a perfect fit, on and off the field.

The 32-year-old quarterback has no problem with people showing their passion for the game. He referred to himself as, “boastful…confident and yes I do borderline cocky,” in his introductory press conference. Passion for the game manifests in different ways for everyone in the stadium, whether you’re in uniform on the field or in the stands trying to get into a visiting players’ head. Tuesday’s press conference, with Mitchell standing in a new locker room, learning a new city and a new, rowdy fan base was every part of game recognizing game.

And Mitchell insists that despite how the 2022 season went for him (“I never wanted to be supplanted as a starting quarterback”) he’s got plenty of game left.

“A second career,” is how he described the opportunity in front of him. He used the word ‘legacy’ twice when he was talking with the media. He pointed to the team’s last Grey Cup win in 1999 and the fact that Hamilton is hosting the 110th Grey Cup in November as things to embrace this coming season.

“It’s having the ability to not just make a one-year, two-year stop somewhere but to create a different legacy, it’s not the same one,” he continued. “I don’t want to keep talking about the old Grey Cups or the old MOPs. I want to create something new. I want to win new Grey Cups, new MOPs. Create something new where people are comparing it, ‘Who was better? The Calgary Bo or the Hamilton Bo?’”

With a decade of pro experience under his belt and the accolades that come with that — a pair of Grey Cup wins and MVP nods from those games; two MOP trophies and a combined five All-Star selections at the tip of the successful iceberg — Mitchell carries a wisdom that surpasses his 32 years. There seems to be a recognition that if time is fleeting in life, it unfolds in fast-forward for a pro athlete. He spoke on Tuesday of appreciating this moment, the start of the new chapter in his career. As the pen met the paper in the Ticats’ offices with this signing, nothing will be taken for granted in this chapter.

Bo Levi Mitchell leaves a legacy of success behind him in Calgary and is determined to build a new one in Hamilton (Thomas Skrlj/CFL.ca)

Parting with that first legacy and embarking on starting a second is a process that Mitchell said started in his last home game at McMahon Stadium, when an appreciative crowd thanked him for his sensational play through 10 seasons. It continued when he got into the Stamps’ Western Semi-Final loss to the BC Lions, knowing these were the final passes he’d make in the only colours he’d known in the CFL.

“You spend a lot of time creating a brand and a community and leaving your legacy somewhere,” Mitchell said.

“To leave that behind and to move on, it’s bittersweet because it’s a little bit bitter at first, but then now, we’re getting to come here and see that there’s a fresh start to be had. There’s an amazing time to be had and a whole new family, a whole new franchise and a whole new legacy to leave. It’s very exciting.”

With Mitchell signed and ready to play in Hamilton, it seems like cruel scheduling fate that fans will have to wait until Week 3 to finally be able to send positive vibes his way at Tim Hortons Field. When the day gets here, you can expect the same Bo Levi Mitchell to step onto that turf.

“I think anybody in this situation is going to use (the same) words, right? I’m motivated, I’m reinvigorated. I have this newfound passion for the game; I’ve never lost those things,” Mitchell said.

“I’ve had things that have chipped away at that rock of confidence or that love for the game is (tempered by) just the injuries and things like that. Then seeing some of your own fans turn on you. That’s just something that chips away at you as a player.

“You’ve got to love this game for what it is. Football’s a very passionate sport. To be able to play it, you’ve got to love it. The moment you don’t love it, it’s going to show on the field. You’re going to be out of the game very fast.

“But the fans love this game so much in this city right here, especially. They love this team so much. I want to hear the pressure. I want to hear the expectations. You know, those expectations I have for myself every single day no matter what when I train for this game. To have those fans to feel that exact same way, it’s exciting.”

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