Rider pride was bruised, but still very much alive Monday as Saskatchewan football fans welcomed their team home following a stunning Grey Cup loss to the Montreal Alouettes.
More than 800 fans clad in green and white waited under grey skies for the Roughriders to appear at Mosaic Stadium in Regina. They waved signs that said “Win or Lose Always No. 1 in our Hearts” and cheered wildly as the players made a brief appearance.
“Aw, man, I just can’t put into words how much this means to me and this team for the support that you guys have shown today,” quarterback Darian Durant told the crowd.
Durant said the team will get past the loss and make it to the Canadian Football League championship again soon.
“I was always told that success is a journey not a destination and we’re well on our way,” he said in a brief speech.
“You better believe that we’ll be back next year and the year after and the year after. We’re here for the long run and get used to seeing the green and white at Grey Cups every year.”
The notoriously rabid Rider fans erupted into cheers. It was a similar scene to one played out at Mosaic Stadium after Saskatchewan won the Grey Cup in 2007.
Durant told reporters afterwards that the fan support was overwhelming.
“I didn’t expect this at all,” he said.
“I remember how it was when we won in ’07 and this is the same thing so it’s a great, great thing.”
The Alouettes edged the Riders 28-27 on a field goal after Saskatchewan was penalized for too many players on the field.
Montreal had missed its first attempt at the field goal and the ’Riders initially thought they’d won the Grey Cup before they noticed the flag on the play.
That gave Montreal kicker Damon Duval a second chance and he connected for a 33-yard field goal.
The Alouettes were greeted Monday at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport by more than 100 screaming fans who belted out “Go Als Go! Go Als Go!” as the first players walked into the arrivals area with the Grey Cup in tow.
“This is just an awesome feeling,” said quarterback Anthony Calvillo.
“I remember the (Grey Cup win) back in 2002 and how excited the city was and we disappointed them and we disappointed ourselves for so many years — to come back and get that same experience once again is something I’m always going to remember.”
A smiling Etienne Boulay grabbed the Grey Cup and headed straight for a mob of howling fans. The Als safety raised the Cup high above his head, whipping the crowd into a frenzy.
He and his teammates each received boisterous welcomes.
“We have the best fans in this league, they’ve supported us all these years,” said Vancouver-born centre Bryan Chiu, after scrawling his autograph on everything fans would put in front of him, including a poster, a jersey and a giant stuffed Alouettes panda.
“We’ve had some tough runs at these Grey Cups and to be able to share this with not only our teammates, but the province of Quebec — it’s great.”
David Dallaire, an Alouettes fan since 1970, said he had a feeling Montreal would pull off the win.
“The game was a nailbiter — we were so nervous,” said Dallaire, still beaming after getting Calvillo to sign an autograph for him. “I met my idol, I’m happy now — my second idol actually — my first idol is Jean Beliveau.”
Slotback Ben Cahoon recalled the dark mood in the Als locker-room at halftime, when the team was trailing 17-3.
“There was some yelling and screaming and some venting going on,” said Cahoon, who won the Grey Cup’s outstanding Canadian award.
“After five minutes of that, we calmed down and got a little plan — the defence told us they were going to get us the ball back in two plays and then they went out and did it. And we were able to take that ball and score (on) that first drive.”
In Saskatchewan, emotions are running so high that a Regina radio station even interviewed a grief counsellor, who talked about ways Rider fans can get over the loss.
Rider fans say they’re devastated, but not angry.
Bunni Anderson, who has been going to Rider games since 1964, says she’s heartbroken for the players who gave it their all.
Anderson was at Mosaic Stadium on Monday to lend her support, but she doesn’t think it’s the toughest loss the Riders have ever faced.
“Every loss is tough, every loss,” said Anderson.
“This is just going to down in history a little different than the others. It’s going to be hard for the players. They’re going to live with it, as the coach said, for the rest of their lives.”
“It’s a game and it’s OK. There is another year, a new year so we should be fine,” said Anderson.
But “fine” is a long way off for ’Riders coach Ken Miller. He said he’s grateful for the fan support, but the normally reserved coach couldn’t hide the fact that he’s taking the loss hard.
“I’m not doing all that well really to tell you the truth. It’s going to take me a while to bounce back,” said Miller.
“In a sense it’s like a grieving process, something maybe like a divorce or something where you have all those things, you have denial and then anger and then finally acceptance and then you get on with things. Hopefully that term doesn’t take too long.”
Miller still won’t say who the 13th man might have been, just that there was a breakdown in communication and that falls on his shoulders.
The last time fans in “Rider Nation” faced such heartbreak was when kicker Paul McCallum missed an 18-yard field goal in overtime against B.C. in the 2004 West final. Irate fans pelted McCallum’s home with eggs and dumped manure on his neighbour’s driveway thinking it was the kicker’s house.
Miller says the loss could “add a little fire” to get the team started next year.
“It was a great, great football game, a great football game, had a lousy ending, but it was a great game,” said Miller.
“Everybody has said that Montreal was the cream of the crop in the CFL and we had our hands around their throats for 59 minutes and 55 seconds.”
“That game certainly could be a springboard to us being much, much better,” said Miller.