It’s time for redemption
Riders look to put 13th man in the past by winning Grey Cup against the Alouettes
It’s hard to imagine that almost a year ago today, the Saskatchewan Roughriders were on the receiving end of one of the most heart-breaking finishes in the history of the Canadian Football League.
Heading into the 97th Grey Cup, many thought that the Montreal Alouettes held a distinct advantage over the Roughriders – on offence, defence, and special teams.
With 15 regular season wins and a very thorough 56-18 thrashing of the British Columbia Lions in the East final under Montreal’s belt, it looked like Saskatchewan would be in for quite a challenge.
Montreal, lead by the CFL’s 2009 most outstanding player Anthony Calvillo and 15 other 2009 East all-stars, had enjoyed a comfortable 2010 season that saw second-year head coach Marc Trestman establish his squad as arguably one of the best in the storied history of the CFL.
Scoring in excess of 100 points more than their nearest competitor on offence and allowing 100 fewer points to be scored against them then their nearest competitor defensively, Montreal was for all intents and purposes, a CFL powerhouse for the ages.
On the other end of the spectrum, Saskatchewan, a franchise with a meagre three CFL championship victories in their then-99-year history, entered the Grey Cup as a heavy underdog.
Although the Riders won their division, knocking the Calgary Stampeders out of the playoffs in a hard-fought West final in Regina, Saskatchewan wasn’t expected by many to put up much of a fight against the ultra-talented Alouettes.
Thankfully for the Green and White, Darian Durant, who had amassed 10 wins as first-year starting quarterback in 2009, and the rest of his Roughrider teammates, the majority of which newcomers to the CFL, came out firing in arguably the biggest game of their young careers.
After a first half that saw Montreal fall behind 17-3 with their future CFL hall of fame quarterback Calvillo generally struggling against a tough, physical Saskatchewan defence, it looked like the Roughriders could pull off the upset and claim their second Grey Cup in three season – a feat that was so utterly unthinkable before the Eric Tillman era began (and promptly ended) that the idea alone would be considered laughable.
Although Montreal scored a quick touchdown out of the gates in the second half, the Riders did a nice job of shutting down the Alouettes’s potent offence in the third quarter and further notched a Luca Congi field goal to bring their lead back to 10 heading into the final 15 minutes of the 2009 CFL season.
In the CFL, of course, very few leads are ever safe, and over the course of the last 17 years, Calvillo, the owner of nearly 400 career passing touchdowns and over 68,000 career passing yards, has probably proven this fact more than anyone else.
Unfortunately for Riderville, the 97th Grey Cup was no exception, as Montreal scored 15 points in the final quarter of the season before lining up to kick a 43-yard go-ahead field goal.
Damon Duval, a four-time East all-star, set up for the long kick and, after missing wide-right on the biggest play of his CFL career, the Roughriders, a team that marketed their world-renowned fan-base as the team’s “13th Man,” put one to many players on the field and were subsequently penalized 10 yards for their ill-timed infraction.
Ten yards closer to the uprights, Duvall nailed his second attempt and effectively snatched the Grey Cup away from the hands of the Saskatchewan Roughriders hands – at the very last second.
In football, a win is a win and there’s no doubt that Montreal won the 97th Grey Cup and that the Roughriders lost. But after being so, so close to being named league champion for only the fourth time in franchise history, especially after nearly beating a team many thought would walk over the Roughriders, players, management, and fans alike felt robbed.
What is arguably more amazing than the fact that a year has already passed since 2009’s bitter Grey Cup finish is that the Roughriders now have a chance to take back what Riderville generally believes to be theirs; a Grey Cup victory over the highly-revered Alouettes.
If Saskatchewan wins on Sunday, it won’t only be one of the biggest wins in franchise history, but it will also give the Roughriders organization and its players, 27 of which remain from last year’s squad, the opportunity to essentially re-write history and redeem themselves on the biggest stage of all – the Grey Cup.