The only other day more Canadian than Grey Cup Sunday is possibly Canada day, though I doubt Canada Day elicits as much passion. On this day, the country comes together in living rooms, drinking establishments and one stadium in particular. Before the day is done, perfect strangers will be embracing each other as if they were long time friends. Children will be conceived. Drunkards will take over the streets, high-fiving cops and partying with politicians whilst blocking major intersections.
As if that wasn’t enough, ‘Canada’s Team’, the Saskatchewan Roughriders will be playing in the game! Even The Globe and Mail, the Toronto based ‘National Newspaper of Canada’ declared the Riders to be Canada’s Team in big bold letters on the front page. Everyone cheers for the Roughriders when their own team isn’t playing. We play the game with passion, in a workman like fashion, and we do it with Canadians playing in roles normally occupied by American players. The Rider offense has been nicknamed ‘The Canadian Air Force’ because 3 of our 4 starting receivers were born in Canada. One is a native of Regina!
The Riders are in tough against a formidable Montreal Allouettes team that lost only 3 games this season and are 9½ point favourites coming in to the game. Montreal has been to the Grey Cup 7 times in the last 9 years. Their starting quarterback, 37 year old Anthony Calvillo is headed for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame upon his retirement. He was voted the league’s most outstanding player the last two years in a row. This game could be the last of his career. By contrast, our quarterback, Darian Durant is starting only the 22nd game of his career. This game could be the passing of the torch, from one generation of quarterbacks, to the next.
Each team mirror’s its quarterback. Like Calvillo, Montreal is stocked with grizzled veteran players. They are a virtual all-star team who took three of five Most Outstanding Player Awards this year. This formidable team also has a chip on its shoulder. They have unfinished business, losing 6 of the 7 Grey Cups they played in this decade. This game could be their last chance to redeem themselves before a big chunk of those veteran players are lost to retirement (likely this offseason). Saskatchewan is a young team, with only a handful of veterans. This team has a bright future and we could be in the midst of a dynasty, having won the Cup in 2007.
Despite the long odds, Saskatchewan has three intangibles going for it. The first is magic. The Riders have something special that no one can describe with mere words. Many of the team’s wins have come in the final minutes of their games, against long odds, in dramatic fashion. Montreal doesn’t have any experience coming back in the fourth quarter because they’re usually well ahead at that point in the game. The second intangible is ‘The 13th Man.’ Calgary has more former Saskatchewan residents than Regina has citizens. Despite being on the road in a ‘neutral’ city, this game will feel like a home game. The stands are going to be a sea of green. Montreal won’t be able to hear themselves think. If they couldn’t win the Cup in front of a home crowd in Montreal last year, how well will they do in front of a rabid, hostile crowd in Calgary? A final intangible is Grey Cup winning experience. Twenty-six Roughrider players on this year’s roster were on the team two year’s ago when we won the Cup. That’s more Grey Cup winning experience than Montreal has on its roster. If this game is close in the forth quarter, and the magic starts working, the fans start screaming, and our players dig even deeper, Montreal’s veterans may start thinking about all those Grey Cup losses.
All we need at that point is for those veteran players to lose their concentration for a nano-second. One play in the final minutes of the fourth quarter could represent the knife turning in the bellies of the 16 – 3 Montreal Allouettes. It’s a tall order, but if any team can rise to the challenge, it’s the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The game starts in three hours. Wish us all luck!