Riders make it difficult for themselves and for fans
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.