REGINA — If the Saskatchewan Roughriders have their way, the name of the 13th man on the field during a stunning Grey Cup loss will forever remain a mystery.
The Riders quietly packed up their lockers Tuesday at Mosaic Stadium and at the same time kept mum about the identity of the extra man on the field that led to a Saskatchewan penalty in the dying seconds of Sunday’s game. The penalty gave the Montreal Alouettes a second chance to kick for the game winning field goal and a 28-27 win.
“I don’t think anybody should out anybody as the 13th man,” says veteran Rider defensive back Eddie Davis.
“It happened, so what, it’s done, it’s over. Guys are disappointed about it and everything, but I don’t think one person should be pointed out for that.”
“It’s a team game and we win as a team, we lose as a team,” says Davis.
The Riders refused to confirm speculation that West Division all-star linebacker Sean Lucas was the 13th man.
Initial reports were that Jason Armstead was the 13th man on the field during the Alouettes first attempt at the field goal. But the Riders have said Armstead was supposed to be in the end zone to retrieve the ball if Montreal kicker Damon Duval missed.
Video replays have since led to speculation that Lucas was the 13th man because he was on the field for the first kick but not the second. Lucas was not in the locker-room Tuesday to comment.
But the notoriously rabid Saskatchewan fans have been speaking out.
By Tuesday afternoon, more than 8,800 people had joined a Facebook group called “I Hate the 13th Man on the Field.” One person wrote “That was an epic fail” and another suggested that the whoever is responsible should be kicked off the team.
Another Facebook group followed, called “I Don’t Hate the 13th Man.” The description for that group read: “It was a coaching error not an individual error.”
Rider coach Ken Miller agreed.
“It doesn’t matter who that person was. It was a breakdown in communication, communication falls into my department and so it’s my responsibility,” Miller said as the players around him tossed cleats and sweatshirts into bags.
“We had a group who went on the field and the group wasn’t communicated clearly and so one player did not come off.”
The incident has drawn comparisons to the Montreal Canadiens’ notorious Game 7 NHL semifinal win in 1979. Don Cherry’s Boston Bruins were called for too many men on the ice late in the game and the Habs went on to win. Cherry has said it was his fault and never named the player.
Miller says the possible fan reaction is not a factor in his decision to keep the name under wraps.
“I just think it was a systemic breakdown as oppose to a personal breakdown,” says Miller.
Irate Rider fans have acted out in the past when faced with such heartbreak. When kicker Paul McCallum missed an 18-yard field goal in overtime against B.C. in the 2004 West final, fans pelted McCallum’s home with eggs and dumped manure on his neighbour’s driveway thinking it was the kicker’s house.
Rider tailback Wes Cates says people should keep things in perspective.
“When a game’s that close you could probably look back to almost every single play in the game and think of how you could’ve maybe changed that play and that might have changed the whole outcome,” says Cates.
The Riders were up by 16 points early in the fourth quarter, but Montreal battled back.
Cates, who is among 16 players who will become free agents in February, says that’s why it’s not fair to lay the loss on the shoulders of one man.
“I don’t think anybody’s going to point the finger or try to blame it all on him or anybody else,” says Cates. “It’s just one of those things where you just wished we’d played a better game and not even put ourselves in that position.”