You don’t even have to be a fan of the Saskatchewan Roughriders or Hamilton Tiger-Cats to realize the 101st Grey Cup at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium on Sunday is the greatest matchup in league history.
To get there, however, the Riders had to get past the Stampeders in Calgary in Sunday’s Western Final. Did they ever! The green guys clubbed their top rival 35-13 and the score actually flattered the home team.
A blocked field goal and a fumble on the goal line in the first half left 10 points on the field for the Riders but in the end it didn’t matter.
However the Stampeders never even gave themselves a chance by committing seven turnovers and only taking the ball away once.
“It’s so surreal for us to win here,” said Rider coach Corey Chamblin. “My biggest goal since leaving Calgary was to be able to win here. We finally did and it’s an unbelievable feeling. We went through some ups and downs but our team didn’t waiver. The coaches and players didn’t and we’re right where we need to be.”
I don’t know why, but it was very clear to me the Riders and Ticats were on a collision course for the 101st Grey Cup as far back as last December when Hamilton hired Kent Austin as coach and GM. They advanced to this championship game by beating the Argonauts 36-24 in Toronto in the Eastern Final.
Much will be written and said during Grey Cup Week about Austin and fellow former Riders Henry Burris, Andy Fantuz, Luca Congi and Eric Tillman coming into Regina to finish the job.
However according to the Riders, that’s only important to the media and fans.
“This is good for the storylines and the media but for me it’s all about getting that Cup man,” said a relieved Rider quarterback Darian Durant after the Western Final.
“2009 was heartbreaking and 2010 was hard. We gotta get this one.”
For Riders President Jim Hopson, who oversaw and consented all of the team’s personnel moves over the past 11 months, it’s all paid off.
“Everything we did this year was geared to this,” Hopson revealed. “We put a lot of pressure on ourselves saying if we didn’t make it to the Grey Cup it would be a disappointment.
“But it’s not over. I thought BC was our biggest challenge, honestly. I feel good but we got one more game to play.”
The matchup is mind-blowing. The drama is over-the-top. It’s going to be the longest, short week of our lives in anticipation of Sunday’s kickoff.
The game itself is scintillating, but the festival itself will be the greatest-ever long before Sunday. Rider legends like Bobby Jurasin and Jeff Fairholm are coming back for the festivities to join the likes of George Reed, Don Narcisse, Roger Aldag, Dan Rashovich and all the others who make their home here.
Austin too, of course, but he’ll be clad in black and gold and intent on spoiling the party.
“I can’t put into words what it will be like with Kent coming back,” Hopson smiled. “It’s going to be a great week.”
Although I had the premonition of a Saskatchewan-Hamilton Grey Cup, it stopped short of predicting the winner. It’s like being woken up near the end of the best dream you ever had!
And now the Riders, who beat Hamilton in both regular season meetings, have to quickly turn the page from the elation of being Western Division champs to the realization that there’s still a huge obstacle in the way of their fourth Grey Cup title in franchise history.
However for now, they can relish in the accomplishment.