October 7, 2012

Nye: An entire province’s love affair with the Riders


Last Saturday night, it happened again to the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Flags thrown and you hear the words ‘too many men’.

This time it had no significance to the outcome of the game but no Rider fan anywhere can deny that any time they hear that phrase it doesn’t take them back to 2009. It may only be for a split second while you shake your head and think, ‘AGAIN?’. But it does.

How can it not?

It was the most devastating moment in Saskatchewan Roughriders history. When Tony Gabriel hauled in the pass to end the 1976 Grey Cup, there was still time on the clock. The team lost.

But in 2009. There were 0:00 left and the scoreboard read 27-25 for the Roughriders in the 97th edition of the Grey Cup. The team had won.

That was the beginning of an emotional roller coaster for everyone in McMahon Stadium that night and the millions watching. The events led to the documentary ‘The 13th Man’ to be premiered on Monday on TSN in the documentary series ‘Engraved on a Nation’ to help commemorate the 100th Grey Cup.
Now, as much as the ‘13th Man’ was supposedly the oppositions ‘worst nightmare’ against the Riders as the infamous sign indicated. No truer words have been spoken as the nightmare was about to happen when official Glen Johnson made the immortal call.

“Illegal substitution. Too many men on the field….” well you know the rest. Damon Duval’s second chance was good and the Alouettes would walk away winners, while the Riders were left sobbing.

But this documentary is a lot more than just the extra player on the field. It’s about Saskatchewan. It’s about the people, the province, the team, the fans and how they all came together to not tear down a team at their lowest point but lift them back up again.

Director Larry Weinstein was gracious enough to include me in this documentary and all I know of it is the interview we held earlier this year.

He wanted every detail possible about what the Riders mean to Saskatchewan and what it was like to be there in the stadium and in the locker room following the most dramatic conclusion to a championship game, possibly ever.

It wasn’t fun. The first thing I saw was a sobbing Chris Szarka who is known as the ‘Canuck Truck’ for his rugged play and ability to gain a yard the tough way when it really matters.

He was brought to tears, as were many of his teammates. The Riders locker room looked more like a family who just found out devastating news. Some players huddled, consoling each other. Others were no where to be seen, needing their own time and space and some like Szarka, alone, unable to hold back.

But there was two men who stood tall that night.

One of them was Ken Miller. He walked the room, making sure every player knew he was there for them. I was in the middle of interviewing Wes Cates when Miller came toward his running back. I stepped aside as Miller hugged him and moved on to the next locker.

The head coach looked as though he was trying to absorb as much of the heartache as he could from his players.

Secondly there was Kavis Reed. When the scrum started it was almost unbelievable how he threw himself on the sword. It was his fault, nobody else to blame but him.

Every one knows that’s not true. But it was another coach trying to protect his players and in this case an individual who still remains anonymous despite the replays, assumptions and rumours. No one on the 2009 Roughriders has ever uttered the name, and hopefully never will.
But it’s what happened after that night that solidified the love of the Riders in Saskatchewan. The hundreds that showed up to show their support just 24 hours later back in Regina.

Calls to our radio program came in for a solid week as we discussed if the 13th man should be identified. No, was the overwhelming response.

It should come as no surprise. Saskatchewan has always come out for the Roughriders when it mattered the most. Whether it be telethons to keep the team alive, or cheering on a team who only wanted to hang their heads.

Speaking with Larry about his adventure through our province, I know he talked to as many people as he could about this team and this fan base.

It’ll be great to watch how he has pieced it all together in the documentary about one of the moments Rider Nation would more than love to forget.