The CFL could not have scripted a better storyline for the 101st Grey Cup in Regina. The Saskatchewan Roughriders will appear in the game as the hometown fan favorites against the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats. “Hometown favorites” is a massive understatement in this case because the Riders will be elevated to sainthood by their rabid fans for their efforts last weekend.
No such honors will be bestowed upon the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. They are the bad guys for Rider fans in this prairie showdown for three big reasons: current Ticats Andy Fantuz, Henry Burris and their head coach Kent Austin.
These guys left Riderville and took their talents to other places where they could conceivably inflict serious harm on the team they left behind, the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The fact these teams will meet in the biggest game of the season just adds fuel to the Grey Cup fire in Regina-a lot of fuel.
The road to the Grey Cup was rocky for both teams as they found their game along the way. The Riders opened very strongly and then hit a giant mid-season tailspin. The Tiger-Cats started very poorly and auditioned many players on defence to win 11 of their last 15 games en-route to their Grey Cup appearance.
Both teams were able to bring key players back into the mix for the playoffs, most notably Rider guard Chris Best and versatile Hamilton rookie receiver Greg Ellingson. The question of the day is which team has improved enough to win a Grey Cup on a frozen field in Regina?
I believe the Saskatchewan Roughriders will hoist the first Grey Cup the team has ever hoisted on their home field on Sunday afternoon. In 101 years of Grey Cups and this will be the first home field victory for a Roughrider franchise with only three Grey Cup titles in the first century of the national football championship. The Riders’ first championship in 1966 will always rank as their greatest championship, but a win on their hometown field of dreams will be a close second.
The Riders will have a huge home field advantage in this game because their fans will snap up every ticket made available by other CFL teams’ fans. Seriously, how many Stamp fans want to sit in a frozen wasteland and watch the Riders win a championship in their home park when they can sell their tickets for enough dough to cover their entire Grey Cup booze tab?
The result will be a deafeningly partisan crowd that will drown out every audible signal attempted by Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris. Henry has not fared well as a visitor to Regina’s Mosaic Field (still Taylor Field for most of us) and the constant “Henry!” chant has gotten inside of his head. Maybe Hamilton head coach Kent Austin has devised a plan to circumvent the chaos factor, but the insane noise level will be an issue for the ‘Cats.
I have been a skeptic throughout Roughrider quarterback Darian Durant’s entire career, but he has performed very well thus far in the playoffs and has been a big factor in the victories.
Right now the Riders closely resemble the unbeaten early season version of the team because they have a balanced run/pass offence, great special team play and the best Saskatchewan defence in recent memory. Getting their mojo back at exactly the right time is the reason the Riders will prevail on Sunday afternoon.
The playoff Tiger-Cats are definitely better than the early season ‘Cats but they are facing the Riders’ pressure defence and ball hawk secondary. The Hamilton run game was virtually non-existent prior to the East final and I expect their offensive game plan will likely still be built primarily around their pass game and Henry Burris. Burris has enjoyed better protection in the latter part of the season, but he was the most sacked quarterback in the league this year and can expect a great deal of heat from the Riders’ defence; the kind of heat that will absolutely not warm up his day.
The greatest pressure faced by the Roughriders will be self-imposed because they will have to control their emotions while they attempt to win a championship in front of the most dedicated home crowd in the CFL. Football is an inherently emotional game, even without the enormous pressure on Saskatchewan to win a championship in front of their fanatical supporters, but I feel the 2013 Saskatchewan Roughriders will provide a storybook finish to their season on Sunday. Next week: a wrap-up.