Wednesday April 16, 2014

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Rider Insider

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If this is a dream, don't wake me up.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders captured the 101st Grey Cup championship with a 45-23 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Sunday at Mosaic Stadium. Just like the week before, the score flattered their opponents.

While it seemed for most of the season that the Riders were on a collision course for their fourth CFL championship, it's really hard to believe it has actually happened.

I mean, it never usually happens this way for the Green & White. A storybook ending? That's for storybooks. At least it has been for much of the franchise's 103 years but on one magical evening on the prairies, the impossible dream became a reality.

And really it still seems like a dream. When I awoke on game day morning, the snow that had accumulated during Grey Cup Week had melted away and was streaming off the roof. Could this be? Could the perfect scenario, the Riders winning the Grey Cup at home in ideal weather conditions, actually happen?

It did. And they did it in dominating fashion. The Riders led by as much as 31-6 over the Ticats who did not put up much in the way of resistance.

The fans were dialed in. The stadium was full as much as 30 minutes before the 5:36 pm kickoff time and it took very little to ignite them into boisterous ovations long before the team was introduced onto the field.

And that, let me tell you, was a sight to behold as well. The Tiger-Cats were calmly introduced one-by-one, their starting defense, before a national TV audience. The CFL tried to do the same for the Riders, beginning with left tackle Xavier Fulton, but moments later the entirety of Canada's Team came bursting out of the tunnel all at once.

It was a clear sign that nothing was going to stand in the way of this team romping to a championship, even if their entrance temporarily ruffled the feathers of league execs.

The domination continued shortly after kickoff as Rider quarterback Darian Durant engineered a bevy of touchdown drives, including two scores by slotback Geroy Simon and running Kory Sheets each along with endzone trips by Jock Sanders and Weston Dressler. The Riders kept coming in waves and they kept the pedal to the metal for the full 60 minutes.

It was as if all the hard lessons they'd learned over the rigours of an 11-7 season (which had plenty of ups and downs) were exactly that; lessons.

In the end, CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon handed the Grey Cup to its rightful owner, Darian Durant, who smiled and pumped the trophy up and down as if it were as light as a feather. No one on that team wanted the trophy to go to anyone else.

"Darian is nothing but a pro," said Rider slotback Chris Getzlaf, who was named the game's Top Canadian. "He got better every year and you can't question his work ethic. No one deserves it more than he does."

We all know by now it was the biggest game in Roughrider history. That fact is undisputed. Sure the Riders had appeared in 18 Grey Cups before, winning three, but never had the team battled for the trophy at home. Until now.

Of course it was extra special for second-year Rider head coach Corey Chamblin who won the title for the first time as a head man. Oddly enough tears streamed down his face when the team won the West Final a week before in Calgary but there were no waterworks this time around. Simply put, the job had been completed just as he expected it would.

"I'm gonna tell you I never felt pressure of winning this game," Chamblin asserted after the game. "I had anxiety to be a champion, nothing about (Hamilton coach) Kent Austin. I wanted to close it out in the right way. BC shook us up in the semifinal but from that point on the guys turned it up and what it took to win."

2013. The Year of the Rider. And the demons of the 13th Man in the 2009 Grey Cup were unceremoniously kicked to the curb never to be thought of again. And with 44,900 citizens of the Rider Nation in attendance on Sunday, the fan base can truly bask in the glow.

"The one thing that led us to a dominant performance was the fans," Chamblin revealed. "They were unreal. I looked at Hamilton in warmups and thought 'I wouldn't want to be you guys'. The stars aligned and it was a positive for us."

The Ticats made no secret of the fact they felt disrespected during the week's festivities, referring to Thursday's CFL Awards as nothing more than a "Rider pep rally". In the end, I'd love to know what they expected, coming into the heartland of the CFL?

For now Chamblin doesn't care. Nor should he. As he stood up from a remarkably brief postgame news conference, he muttered the only words that mattered.

"That's it," Chamblin said. "We're the champs."

A storybook ending indeed.


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