As I observed in my listing for this game in our June 26-July 9 issue, things seem to be a little blasé in Riderville so far in 2014. Last season was a storybook year for the Green & White. They struggled a bit mid-season with some key players such as running back Kory Sheets and guard Chris Best out with injuries, but they rounded into form nicely in the playoffs and after a slow first half against the BC Lions in the West semi-final were absolutely dominant the rest of the way, capped off by a 45-23 shellacking of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Grey Cup (game photo above).
As Ron, Earl and Cal note in our June 26 print issue, the Riders had a huge number of changes in the off-season. That was to be expected, though, because the 2013 Riders were a dream team built exclusively to fulfill every Rider fan’s fantasy by capturing a Grey Cup on home turf.
Through the expansion draft, free agency (in both the CFL and NFL) and retirement the Riders lost a ton of talent and leadership. According to our pigskin pundits, though, the Riders are still a solid football team. The O-line and defensive secondary are arguably tops in the league, Corey Chamblin remains head coach, and Darian Durant leads at QB.
But in the two exhibition games that the Riders played at Mosaic Stadium, they drew a grand total of 28,367 fans. Yeah, the weather was a factor. And the Riders have reached their season ticket cap of 26,700. Plus the Riders start the 2014 season in a weird way. With the Ottawa Redblack home game gimmick, they had two exhibition games in Regina, and they play three of their first four regular season games at home, so if you’re coming from out of town that’s a lot of driving to do and some fans might have decided to give the exhibition games a pass.
Still, as of a few days ago, the Riders had 3000 tickets available for today’s Grey Cup rematch against the Hamilton Tiger Cats. With the solid core of talent remaining on the Riders, plus the recruitment they did in the off-season to replace players no longer here, along with major uncertainty at QB for their two main West rivals Calgary and B.C., our pundits stated that they thought the Riders had a shot at repeating as Grey Cup champs.
Were they to do that, they’d make history as the first Rider team to win back-to-back cups in the team’s 104-year history. To do that, though, they’ll have to be hungry. And their vaunted fans will have to be hungry too.
What better way to test everyone’s intensity level than with this tilt against a young Hamilton team that promises to be better this season due to another year of maturity and some key free agent signings? There’s one big question mark for the Tabbies, though. Former Toronto back-up QB Zach Collaras is the starter now. Long-term, he definitely has more upside than last year’s starter Henry Burris. But if he experiences some growing pains, as it seems almost inevitable he will, the Ti-Cats will struggle a bit on offence.
Game time today is 5 p.m., and the game is being broadcast on TSN.