Despite having the Southern Division title wrapped up, and despite coming off their bye week, the Baltimore Stallions should not have much trouble getting up for tomorrow's game against )) the visiting British Columbia Lions. Last year's Grey Cup loss to the Lions, coupled with Baltimore's season-opening, 37-34 loss in Vancouver, should take care of the Stallions' motivation.
And no Baltimore player will be more excited about the game than linebacker Ken Benson, who has been activated for the first time this year.
Tomorrow represents quite a comeback for Benson, a four-year veteran who was Baltimore's unluckiest player last season, a year after he led the Canadian Football League in total tackles with the Toronto Argonauts. He broke his right ankle in the first preseason game, and didn't return until October. In five games, including the Grey Cup, Benson recorded 20 tackles and a sack. But he did it with increasing pain in his right leg.
Two more ankle surgeries followed in the off-season, the last of which was in April. During training camp, Benson figured he might play by August.
He first worked out with the team two months ago, and was added to the Stallions' practice roster last week. Tomorrow, Benson will play on special teams.
"It's been a long time, a real long time. I spent the whole off-season either in surgery or on crutches. A lot of sitting around," said Benson, 6 feet 2, 220 pounds.
"I've had a lot of questions on my mind. Will I get to play? Will it be in Baltimore? How good was I before the injury? Will I be that good again? You try to keep that stuff to yourself. You try to be positive."
If Baltimore makes it back to the Grey Cup game, that would give Benson five games to show the Stallions that he is worth
keeping around for 1996, Benson's option year.
View from the bench
Another player who has tried to remain upbeat this week is wide receiver Shannon Culver. After starting 15 games for the Stallions, Culver has been benched. He will be the backup receiver tomorrow, and rookie Toby Cates will start in his place.
"It hasn't been a good week. I don't feel like talking about it. Physically, I'm fine. Mentally, I'm not," said Culver, who is second on the team in receptions (39), receiving yards (526) and touchdowns (four).
Culver last scored a touchdown on Aug. 26 against Toronto, his only score in the past three months. He missed the Sept. 23 game against Shreveport with a neck injury, and has produced three receptions for 36 yards in two games since then.
"He is disappointed, but players don't have a choice," Baltimore coach Don Matthews said. "Players do what they're told. He's still on the football team. He has to continue to play well when called upon, in whatever role we put him in.
"There are always three opinions about players' worth -- the player's, his mother's and the coach's. And they never match.
"If I bought every player for what he is worth and sold him for what he thought he was worth, I'd be a very rich man."
Wanted: Ticket buyers
The Stallions are expecting a crowd of more than 35,000 for tomorrow's game, which would mark the best attendance of the season. Earlier this week, though, owner Jim Speros expressed disappointment in other ticket sales. About 1,200 of his season ticket holders have not purchased playoff tickets.
"I'm a little upset by that," said Speros, who planned to call some season ticket holders personally. "We're the hottest team in the league. We've got the best winning streak [eight] in the league. We need their support."