August 3, 2010

Team Retro Profile: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Brian Snelgrove

Perhaps no CFL team in the 1970’s experienced as much pain and as much elation as the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

The Green and White qualified for the Western Final seven straight times between 1970 and 1976. That’s the good news. The bad news is they lost five of those – to Calgary in 1970 and ’71 and to the powerhouse Eskimos in 1973, ‘74 and ‘75. In 1972 and ‘76 the Riders got to two Grey Cups (good news) but unfortunately lost both times (more bad news).

The ‘Riders entered the decade with  Eagle Keys (1965-70) at the helm, had two productive seasons under Dave Skrien (’71 and ’72) and four straight years under John Payne (1973-76). The last three seasons the team failed to make the playoffs led by Jim Eddy, Walt Posadowski and Ron Lancaster.

In 1972 the ‘Riders returned to the Grey Cup for the second time in four years (1969) and faced the Tiger-Cats before a hostile crowd at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton. Down 10-0 after the first quarter, Saskatchewan tied the game before half-time on an eight yard touchdown reception by Tom Camapana and a 20 yard field goal by Jack Abendschan. The game stayed that way until late in the fourth quarter when Chuck Ealey led the Tiger-Cats the length of the field to set up Ian Sunter’s 34 yard game-winning field goal. The winning drive was sparked by Tony Gabriel – a name that would come back to haunt the ‘Riders four years later – as he made his only three catches of the game.

In the ’76 Classic, Gabriel again played the foil as he caught a touchdown pass from Tom Clements with less than 20 seconds to play to send the other Riders from Ottawa home with the Cup in a thrilling 23-20 decision. Steve Mazurak and Bob Richardson caught Lancaster passes for touchdowns as Saskatchewan lost their second Cup of the decade. It was the second heart-breaking set-back in a row for the Roughriders coming on the heels of their last-play loss in ’72.

As was the case in the 60’s the Roughriders of the 70’s were led by an incomparable tandem – the arm of Ron Lancaster and the legs of George Reed.

Lancaster (1963-78) is the all-time Saskatchewan leader in virtually every passing category and is regarded as one of the finest signal-callers in CFL history. He holds career marks for most attempts (5,834), completions (3,186), yards (46,710) and touchdown passes (299).

He was a four-time CFL all-star in the 70’s (1970, ’73, ’75 and ’76) and was named the league’s Most Outstanding Player in 1970 and again in 1976. He was the only player to win the award twice in the decade. In 16 seasons with Saskatchewan, “The Little General” led the ‘Riders to the playoffs 14 times. Lancaster’s #23 was retired by the ‘Riders and he was elected to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1982.

George Reed (1963-75), who led the team in rushing for eleven straight years, was a nine- time league all-star and arguably the greatest runner in CFL history. Reed cracked the 1,000 yard barrier five straight years in the 70’s (1971-75) and was a CFL all-star four times in that period.

Reed is so far ahead of his nearest rivals in the Saskatchewan media guide that it looks like a misprint. The prairie legend has nearly 12,000 more yards rushing in his career (16,116) than Saskatchewan’s runner-up Mike Saunders (4,396). He has 100 more touchdowns (134) than quarterback Kent Austin who is number two. 

The top four rushing seasons in ‘Rider history all also belong to George Reed. Reed’s sweater #34 was retired by Saskatchewan and he was sent to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

While Reed and Lancaster were the unquestioned leaders, plenty of other players stood out for Saskatchewan throughout the decade as well.

Ralph Galloway (1969-79) played 11 seasons for the Green and White and was a solid offensive lineman and CFL all-star in 1976 and ’77. He was a Western all-star five straight years from 1973-77.
Ted Urness (1961-70) played ten seasons with the Riders and was a CFL all-star for six straight years (1965-70) He retired after the 1970 season and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1989.

Rhett Dawson (1974-76) had 1191 yards receiving in 1975 and was a CFL all-star in 1976. He led the team in receiving both seasons.

The Rider receiving corps was led by Bobby Thompson in the first half of the decade. Thompson (1969-74 and 1977) was the leading receiver for Saskatchewan four times in a six year span (1969-74).

Defensive End Bill Baker played for the ‘Riders from 1968-73 and again from ’77-78 and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1994. Baker was a CFL all-star in 1972 and ’73.

Bruce Bennett played from 1966-72 and was a conference all-star defensive back six times (’67-72). He still holds the Roughrider record for longest interception return in club history. Bennett set the mark in 1972 with a 112 yard return against Calgary.

Lorne Richardson was an outstanding defensive back and the West’s nominee for Rookie of the Year in 1973. Richardson played for the ‘Riders from 1973–76 and was a league all-star all four seasons.

Jack Abendschan (1965-75) was the ‘Riders kicker for 11 seasons and a Western all-star in 1971, ’72 and ’73.

As the decade closed, Saskatchewan fans said good-bye to a pair of CFL legends and looked forward to a new beginning for the Green and White.