Friday October 31, 2014

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Rider Insider

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Games like Thursday's Saskatchewan Roughrider 23-17 victory at Winnipeg are what make sports so great, and why we consider ourselves very lucky to make a living at it.

On the morning of game day, as soon as your feet hit the floor, you're excited about what's going to happen that night. You never know what what's going to go down in that 60 minutes sometimes the excitement is unbearable.

Not every game is a history-maker but this particular game ended up being one for the ages.

Thursday was an excruciatingly long day in the Manitoba capital in anticipation of the Week 7 clash between bitter rivals Saskatchewan and Winnipeg.

So much so that I hopped in a cab at 3:00 pm and headed to beautiful Investors Group Field because I was tired of waiting. There were some coaches pacing the hotel lobby at that time and it looked like they'd like to jump in with me but thought it better to wait for the bus.

Have you ever walked into a stadium or arena hours before game time and you can just feel the tension and anxiety? Winnipeg had it Thursday night.

And the pregame fireworks - both literal and figurative - showed we were in for a doozy! The Roughriders charged the middle of the field from their endzone locker room at the exact same time the Blue Bombers were being introduced. They clashed at midfield like two rams on a mountain cliff. It was spectacular!

Amidst the smoky haze from the pyrotechnics, coaches Corey Chamblin and Mike O'Shea were seen shouting at each other. They both downplayed it afterwards, with O'Shea saying they had to yell be to be heard over the noise. Chamblin said there was a mix-up with the timing of their introduction and they weren't trying to be disrespectful.

I believe that to be the case, but it certainly set the tone for the 60 minutes of football ahead.

It was a bit of a back-and-forth slugfest with the Riders opening up a 3-0 lead before trailing 10-3 at halftime. The Voice of the Winnipeg Jets, Brian Munz, watched the game in our booth and midway through the third quarter leaned over and said, "When does the excitement start?"

What?! Granted there had been no "big plays" to that point (25 yards or more) but I was on pins and needles! I thought to myself, "We're only down 10-3. A simple touchdown and it's a brand new game!"

Unfortunately the offense wasn't going to get it done on this night although Jerome Messam's 126 yards rushing - mostly in the second half - were a work of art. Offensive coordinator George Cortez kept pounding his big horse into the middle of the Bomber defense to the point the big man had to pull himself out temporarily for a breather.

The Bombers had every reason to win that game: they were at home, on a long week while the Riders were on a short one, and they have the early-season MVP in quarterback Drew Willy. Through six games they were considered the CFL's best team.

But the longer the Riders hung around, you knew their chances would get better. And that tough-as-nails defense scored 14 second half points to help out the cause as the Riders pantsed their opposition and raced out of dodge with the win.

It was remarkable! Chamblin said after the game that it was a tougher game than any Grey Cup he'd ever been a part of. Everything was stacked against the Green & White but they banded together like I've rarely seen before.

It was mentioned that staying for a week in Ottawa would help this football club bond. Well, evidence of that was on display on a beautiful summer night in Manitoba.

"Games like that are what we play sports for," smiled Rider linebacker Sam Hurl upon the team's return to Regina. "That's what it's all about."

And it's what keeps us coming back for more.

(For daily Rider news follow Rod on Twitter at @sportscage)


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