Had you told me at the start of the 2010 CFL season that the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Montreal Alouettes were destined to meet in a rematch of their infamous 2009 Grey Cup game I’d have shrugged and said “You might be right.”
Had you made the same statement a month or so ago when the Riders were mired in a four game tailspin I’d've been considerably more skeptical. Label me a bandwagon jumper if you wish, but the Riders have played a lot of bad football this year. Even in last Sunday’s stirring victory over the Calgary Stampeders, can you imagine the outcry if Jerrell Freeman hadn’t corraled that loose football in the end zone after the Riders botched a punt return with less than three minutes to play?
Resiliency is a trait that all championship teams possess. Talent is important, sure. But rare is the team that doesn’t, at some point in the season, face adversity. It’s their ability to overcome obstacles that separates them from the also-rans. That the Riders are resilient, there can be no doubt. And not just this year, either. Over the last four seasons, they have shown a remarkable capacity to recover from setbacks and forge ahead.
Really, this entire season has been a test of their resiliency following last season’s devastating loss to the Als in the CFL championship. In the losses they incurred this year, the Riders were inevitably their own worst enemy, turning the ball over multiple times, exhibiting poor clock management and questionable decision-making (like the failed punt attempt for a single that sent the Sept. 17 against Calgary into OT) and brutal special teams play.
Yet, through it all, they persevered, and now they have a chance for redemption against the Als. Except this game isn’t about redemption, or revenge. As I observed in a blurb in our June 17 print issue previewing the Riders’ home opener against Montreal way back on July 1 the Alouettes were worthy Grey Cup champions in 2009. And they’re worthy CFL East representatives in this year’s championship.
Nothing that transpires later today at Commonwealth Stadium will impact one iota on what occured last year at McMahon Stadium when the Riders were flagged for too many men and the Als got a second shot at kicking a last-second game-winning field goal. Fortunately, I think the Riders are smart enough to realize that. As for the game itself, the day-time high is forecast to be minus seven, so it will be a bit more clement than last week in Calgary. But with the game set to start two hours later, it’s still going to be chilly.
That should help the Riders, as they’ve been practicing and playing in winter-like weather for some time now. Last week, the Als totally dominated the Argos in the East Final. If the Riders revert to their self-destructive ways, the same fate could await them. But if they protect the ball, and do a good job of sustaining drives and keeping the potent Alouette office freezing on the sidelines they have a solid shot of winning.
It’s been an epic 12 months in Riderville, on par with anything Homer or Shakespeare might have come up in their prime, from the tragic loss in Calgary last November, through ups and downs of the team’s centennial season, to today’s championship rematch against the Als. All that remains to be written is the final chapter. Kick-off on TSN is at 5:30 p.m.