December 4, 2009

Pedersen: From euphoria to heartbreak

Rod Pedersen

The hours have turned into days, and eventually it will be weeks.  Before you know it, years will have gone by since the 2009 Grey Cup game but the devastation inflicted on the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Rider Nation is going to live on forever.

Legendary Winnipeg Blue Bomber broadcaster Bob Irving said it best as we were walking out of Calgary’s McMahon Stadium that night of November 29, 2009.

“It’s great for the CFL,” Irving smiled.  “But brutal for the Roughriders.”

He’s referring to the ending of the Canadian football title game this year, where a too many men penalty negated a missed 43 yard game-winning field goal by Montreal kicker Damon Duval. With no time left, Duval got another crack at it from 10 yards closer and you KNEW he wasn’t going to miss again.

From the sidelines, we on the Rider bench went from the unbridled excitement of a Grey Cup championship to the absolute depths of depression within a span of about three seconds. That was the length of time it took from the missed field goal which would’ve given the Riders the win, to the realization that there were three penalty flags down and they were all against Saskatchewan.

I’m surprised we’ve heard no reports of Rider fans across the country, or world, dying of a heart attack in the hours which followed the game.

It was great for the CFL because the game has automatically become a top ten classic in the 97-year history of the Grey Cup.

That’s little consolation for the Riders, who were still at a loss for words upon their return to Regina less than 24 hours later.

“I’m not doing all that well really,” said Rider coach Ken Miller after a somber welcome home rally.  “To tell you the truth, it’s going to take me awhile to bounce back.”

At 67 years of age, Miller knows he may not have that many more opportunities to get back to the dance.  His voice trembled and his eyes glistened as he recounted his team’s unspeakable disappointment.

It really was no different for the players on Canada’s Team as they cleaned out their lockers on the Tuesday after the game.   They still resembled robots, or zombies, without a hint of expression on their faces.

“It’s definitely disappointing,” said star Rider slotback Andy Fantuz, who appeared to be in a trance. “I can’t compare it to losing out in ’08 because I don’t really remember the feeling.  This one’s going to be tough.  It’s going to take awhile.”

Normally the onus would be to look ahead and start making plans for the 2010 season or at the very least, the off-season which is now at hand.

“I don’t know,” Fantuz continued, still at a loss for words.   “Just move on, spend some time with the family I guess.  I don’t know.”

The Roughriders have 16 free agents for GM Eric Tillman to deal with and it includes a large group of starters including FB Chris Szarka, RB Wes Cates and DE Stevie Baggs. However no one seemed to be in the mood to look ahead.

“I don’t know,” said 10-year veteran CB Omarr Morgan, himself an impending free agent.  “I haven’t thought about it, man.  I still have this game in the back of my mind.  I do want to come back here and play but there may be some changes made. We’ll see, in January/February.”

In conclusion, many of us had written the epitaph long before this Grey Cup game had been played, saying the 2009 Rider season was already a success.  This was because of the team’s first-place finish and West Division championship.

But because they had a 16-point lead with eight minutes to go in the Grey Cup and lost the game on a mental error, it becomes a very difficult thing to get past.

It will only compound every year at this time when we’re all reminded about it in the top ten replays.

Ya win some, ya lose some.   But very rarely are they this tough to swallow.