The time for the Montreal Alouettes to bask in the glow of their team-record 15-3 regular season is over.
It will all look dark in a hurry if the Alouettes cannot beat the 8-10 B.C. Lions when the teams meet in the CFL East Division final on Sunday (TSN, 1 p.m. ET)
Despite the disparity in their records, the game is seen by nearly everyone as a toss-up - an even clash between two clubs that have split their last four meetings over the past two seasons, with neither side winning by more than a touchdown.
"We've been very humble," Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo said Saturday. "We know what kind of team we're capable of being and we've proven that in the regular season and now we have to prove it in the playoffs.
"We respect every opponent, but when we go on the field we expect to win and this week is no different."
More than 52,000 tickets have been sold and the domed, 55,000-seat Olympic Stadium will likely be packed and noisy when the eight-team league's easternmost and westernmost clubs meet in what is the East final in name only. The Lions were fourth in the West but crossed over because they had a better record than the bottom two teams in the East.
They went into Hamilton last Sunday and beat the Tiger-Cats 34-27 in overtime in the East semi-final thanks to a 360-yard passing performance from Casey Printers, the CFL's Outstanding Player in 2004 with B.C. who rejoined the Lions in September.
The return of the dynamic Printers, who can do as much damage running the ball as throwing it downfield, makes the outcome even harder to call.
"More swagger, more confidence," was how Geroy Simon, Printers' favourite target, described the veteran quarterback's impact on the Lions. "He's brought a different dimension to our team, where teams have to respect the deep ball if he's in the pocket, or if it breaks down they have to respect him throwing on the run, or if no one's open, he can pull it down and run it probably better than anyone in the league."
He will be up against a Montreal defence that allowed more than 100 fewer points than any other club this season and dominated nearly every defensive statistic, with one exception - sacks, where B.C. enjoyed a 45-42 edge.
And the Alouettes will play at home, where they have beaten B.C. in their last three meetings. They were all at the Alouettes' regular-season home, the 20,202-seat Percival Molson Stadium, however. In the echo chamber that is the Big O, the noise is magnified 10 times.
"The fans have done an excellent job of being loud when they need to be and they've done a better job of being quiet when the offence is on the field," said Calvillo, whose team was 9-0 at home this season. "We're going to need the same thing out of them this time. It's an advantage."
The annual debate over whether to finish first and have a bye week to the division final is better or not also comes into play, although it is old hat for the Alouettes, who have had the bye in three of the last four years.
They had the East Division clinched in October, but had to play out the rest of the regular season, then sit out a week with the bye. Calvillo did not play the final regular-season game to rest up bumps and bruises, so he has not thrown a meaningful pass in three weeks.
The team has not been in a must-win situation in two months.
"That's the difference between what people have been saying outside the locker room and how we've been playing on the field," added Calvillo. "It started six weeks ago and we went 5-1.
"We really took pride in putting things together, even though it didn't mean anything in the standings. We wanted to be the best team we could be and we did that. When people said we weren't playing for anything it was the total opposite of what we were saying in the locker room."
"We didn't sit anybody after we clinched," said rush end Anwar Stewart. "The guys kept striving to get better."
The Lions, beset with injuries to quarterbacks for most of the season, lost their last three games of the regular season. Now they hope to emulate the 2000 Lions, who were also 8-10 and had to win two playoff games to reach the Grey Cup game, where they beat Montreal 28-26.
"There are so many variables that go into each team's season," said Lions defensive end Brent Johnson. "You can argue that the West is a tougher racket (than the East), but Montreal's played some good games in the West.
"They're supposed to be here. They're the right team. They didn't luck out. But I feel the same about us. We've had to grind it out and do it a little differently, but we belong here too. So, may the best team win."