Heartbreak in Rider nation

By in Sports & Health

As Damon Duval’s kick sailed wide for the Alouettes there were mere seconds of pandemonium and thrill amongst Rider fans. I unfortunately, saw the penalty flags fly immediately, and never did get to taste that false celebration.

Too many men? Unbelievable.

That said, I did get to take in what I consider to be one of the best Grey Cup weeks ever. From dancing in the streets with fellow Rider fans and the Calgary City Police, to attending Roughrider practices and mingling with media from coast-to-coast, it was evident the rich tradition of Canada’s football championship is alive and well.

Over the 99 years of Roughrider football, there is no question this team has endured many a heartache. The 1976 game is one many people still recall because of Ottawa’s Tony Gabriel scoring on a last-play touchdown. Or what about Paul McCallum’s missed field goal in overtime in 2004? Trust me, there have been many losses in between as well.

But this one seems different. Sure it is one of the biggest mistakes in football history, on the biggest stage, in the most important situation. But Saskatchewanians seem all right with it. There’s no rioting in the streets, there’s no manure being chucked around, in fact there’s almost a collective wave of sympathy and hope that is surrounding this football team and province right now.

The 13th Man is a slogan that the Roughriders have placed upon their rabid fans, feeling as though anywhere the Riders are playing they always have an extra player on the field to help them to victory. That was definitely the case in Calgary, as a throng of Rider Priders invaded McMahon and created an incredible sea of green.

Throughout the roller coaster ride that was the 97th Grey Cup, there were many times that I believed we were going to beat the unbeatable Montreal Alouettes. Nobody picked the little team that could from Saskatchewan to even compete with the eastern juggernaut from la belle province. We had them by the throat.

The Roughriders had sent 12 players on the line of scrimmage in hopes of blocking the 43-yard field goal. What they forgot, however, is that they also sent Jason Armstead into the end-zone to return the kick if missed. With the score 27-25, a missed field goal would have only given the Als one single point, making the score 27-26 — a Rider win. Speculation claiming linebacker Sean Lucas was the extra man has also been circulating but the Riders have kept quiet about the fine details of the play.

Kavis Reed, special team’s coach, has taken all of the blame, stating that in his role as a coach, he is responsible for getting the right players in the right places. That said, the hunt for the identity of the extra player that cost the Riders the game will continue for weeks.

The hardest part of all was after the game. In a scene difficult to describe, I found myself in the bowels of McMahon Stadium for Roughrider head coach Ken Miller’s post-game press conference.

With hardly any media in the room, and the crowning of Montreal’s Grey Cup win being heard in the background, Miller tried to explain what just took place. The 68-year-old man had tears in his eyes, stumbled for words and looked more defeated than I have ever seen any one person in my life.

There is no question this is going to hurt many of the players and coaches for a long time. It’s just one of those things you don’t get over, but just learn to live with.

That said, the word dynasty has been thrown around in Saskatchewan with the a strong core of players and hope they have for the future.

If you look back at any successful sports franchises in the past, it took understanding the agony of defeat before fully realizing the thrill of victory. The 13th Man lives on.