Rid­ers make it dif­fi­cult for them­selves and for fans

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - Sports - ROB VAN­STONE

REGINA— This au­tumn, we have a greater chance of see­ing Mick Jag­ger or Char­l­ize Theron than a Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers home play­off game.

Saskatchewan’s re­al­is­tic hopes of stag­ing a CFL West Di­vi­sion post-sea­son con­test evap­o­rated one long week ago, when the Roughrid­ers lost 30-25 to the Edmonton Eski­mos on Tay­lor Field.

In the wake of that im­plo­sion, the Rid­ers have been dissed and dis­missed by fu­ri­ous fans and pes­simistic pun­dits.

This is hardly novel. In re­cent reg­u­lar sea­sons, the Roughrid­ers have been writ­ten off more of­ten than Billy Joel’s cars. The team’s foibles have prompted a se­ries of acer­bic cri­tiques by this griz­zled ob­server. Could that con­sti­tute good news? Scathing crit­i­cism — or a seem­ingly lost cause — seems to be the recipe for a resur­gence in Riderville.

“You’re right,’’ fourth-year Roughrid­ers re­ceiver Matt Dominguez said.

“That’s pretty much the M.O. of this team. We al­ways play our best when our backs are against the wall. It’s the way it has al­ways been since I’ve been here. It’s no dif­fer­ent this year.’’

This year’s record is no dif­fer­ent than it was at the 14-game mark in 2003.

Three years ago, the Rid­ers sported a 7-7 slate fol­low­ing a 2-5 tail­spin. Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters, there was the firestorm sur­round­ing de­fen­sive end Shont’e Peo­ples, whose ar­rest for pos­sess­ing a minis­cule amount of mar­i­juana be­came pub­lic knowl­edge af­ter the Roughrid­ers’ 14th game.

The com­mo­tion prompted the team to close ranks and im­pose a brief me­dia boy­cott. More crit­i­cism en­sued.

The Rid­ers re­sponded by win­ning their fi­nal four reg­u­lar-sea­son games to fin­ish at 11-7. That is Saskatchewan’s only win­ning sea­son since 1994.

The 2003 Rid­ers went one step fur­ther, de­feat­ing the host Win­nipeg Blue Bombers 37-21 in the West semi­fi­nal. Saskatchewan pro­ceeded to lose to Edmonton in the di­vi­sion fi­nal, but the 2003 sea­son was still widely rec­og­nized as a suc­cess.

Then-Cal­gary Stam­ped­ers pres­i­dent Ron Rooke took no­tice. He at­tempted to hire the Rid­ers’ foot­ball-op­er­a­tions staff — most no­tably Bar­rett and GM Roy Shivers — to re­con­struct a floun­der­ing team. The group ended up stay­ing put, largely at the urg­ing of Bar­rett, who was a 2003 coach-ofthe-year nom­i­nee. Can Bar­rett sal­vage this sea­son, too? It doesn’t look promis­ing — but, again, that might be a good omen. The Roughrid­ers are more apt to re­spond when peo­ple are down on them.

We have al­ready seen how the Roughrid­ers fare when there is the prospect of a ma­jor break­through. It isn’t pretty.

One week ago, Saskatchewan had an op­por­tu­nity to squelch any plau­si­ble hope Edmonton had of mak­ing the play­offs for a 35th con­sec­u­tive year. In­stead, the Roughrid­ers gassed a 14-3 lead and gave Edmonton an­other life. The odds still favour the Rid­ers, who are four points ahead of Edmonton (5-9) for the West’s fi­nal play­off spot.

“I look at our 7-and-7 record as not in­dica­tive of our tal­ent and the type of level we should be play­ing at,’’Dominguez said. “It’s just the record. Edmonton won the Grey Cup at 9-and-9.You’ve just got to get in. Ev­ery­body here knows that. I don’t want it to seem like an ex­cuse, but that is the thing. Edmonton is still four points be­hind us. We’ve just got to keep them there.’’

For Bar­rett to re­main where he is, a late-sea­son re­vival is of the essence.

This will be Bar­rett’s most-cru­cial test in seven years as the Rid­ers’ field boss. Af­ter all, Bar­rett’s con­tract is to ex­pire af­ter this sea­son.

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters, start­ing quar­ter­back Kerry Joseph is at­tempt­ing to shrug off a sore knee. Good luck . . .

A week ago, it was rea­son­able to sug­gest that Bar­rett could save his job by at­tain­ing the board of direc­tors’stated bench­mark of a home play­off game.

So much for that. Now it ap­pears that the Roughrid­ers will have to reach the Grey Cup for Bar­rett to be re­tained.

A .500 record is not re­flec­tive of great­ness. But re­mem­ber: The last Saskatchewan team to win the CFL ti­tle — the 1989 edi­tion — had a 9-9 record.

Sound familiar? The Roughrid­ers are on pace for a third suc­ces­sive .500 sea­son. They typ­i­cally do it the hard way.

“Pretty much,’’Dominguez said. “I’m al­ways look­ing for that one thing that makes us get the past the hump where we’re al­ways up, down, up, down, up, down. I haven’t found it yet. That’s just me.’’

That’s just the Roughrid­ers. They cus­tom­ar­ily per­form at a level which is con­trary to ex­pec­ta­tions.

Last week, ad­her­ence to tra­di­tion cre­ated dev­as­ta­tion in the Rider Na­tion.

This week­end, Saskatchewan fans can only hope for more sur­prises.

Regina Leader-Post

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