Last Rider Home Game at Taylor Field

October 28, 2016 - 7:49am

Yeah, I know the good people at Mosaic would prefer to have me say Taylor Field at Mosaic Stadium, but considering it was 40 years ago when my Dad and I started going to football games as season ticket holders, I have earned the right to call it whatever the hell I want.

That kind of throws me when I write that down and consider all those years, and all those memories and it will end to an extent on Saturday night with the final Rider game and apparently TSN will televise the half hour after the game festivities which are supposed to be “electric” and no doubt there will be tears flowing.

I’ve had the good fortune of both attending and playing on Taylor Field turf and strangely enough my first play as a running back resulted in me scrambling to recover a ball and getting tackled and I made such a fine figure in getting tackled that the Leader Post took a picture of it and put it on the front of the sports page on October 4 1979.

There are some great memories, like beating the Eskimos 40-0 in 1976, Ken Clark kicking the winning field goal against the wind after leaving his mothers deathbed in 1983, the first arrival of the Sacramento Gold Miners, the Riders clinching first on my birthday, the Thunder Bowl game of 2007, winning the western final, winning the Grey Cup, seeing the Stones, AC/DC, and Paul McCartney.

The Riders have been marketing this as the farewell season and with the team going into the tank so early, it has been hard to sustain enthusiasm.

A four game winning streak that was snapped in the rain last weekend kind of took more air out of the tires and after the University of Regina Rams and University of Saskatchewan Huskies opened the new Mosaic Stadium, it made comparisons between the two not go well for Taylor Field.

This game will not be technically the last to be played at Taylor Field.

The University of Regina Rams will host a playoff game, maybe two or more depending on how deep they go, and the high school playoffs will be held at Taylor Field and maybe even the provincial finals because that would be appropriate.

After sitting in the rain for three hours, mostly, last week, my enthusiasm for this week has ranged from here to there, because while the Riders have done not a bad job in marketing the team this year as the last chance to see them play in the old field, the secret is not so much the team, but the people you saw the team with.

I thought about that at the 2013 Grey Cup when I remembered walking up to our old seats in Section 204, Row 9, seats five and six with my Dad and passing the press box and talking about how great it would be to see the game from the press box and how unbelievable it would be to see the Riders host and win the Grey Cup at Taylor Field.

Dad passed away in 2001, but two weeks before he died, I contacted the Riders and swung an unbelievable favor by getting them to allow my Dad and I to sit in the press box and watch the Riders play Hamilton.

Dad was dying from thyroid cancer and had a breathing tube in his throat so he couldn’t make noise, but we communicated by writing in a small notebook I still have to this day. That weekend saw the release of Green Grit by Graham Kelly and a signing party was held at the Book and Brier Patch and I took my Dad down there to get our copy of the book signed and meet people like Ron Lancaster.

It was in introducing my Dad who couldn’t speak, to Lancaster and I had to explain why he was so silent and wearing his old Canadian Forces ascot, that I finally came to terms with acknowledging my father was going to die. The fact the Riders won that game and it was the last game we saw together was something you will never forget in what was an entirely forgettable 2001 season.

I thought about that as I was in the stands for the 2013 Grey Cup, feeling all the cosmic tumblers come together for one perfect afternoon/evening and wishing my family could have been there to share the moment.

For all of its imperfections, it was never the construction of the stadium, or the way it was falling apart that made it special, it was the people.

I will be in the stands for the Rams playoff game, so technically this will not be my last game at Taylor Field, but it will be the last Rider one.

The Riders have done a pretty good job in not saying what they are going to do after the game, but be sure to set the record for an extra half hour because for all the games we as Rider fans saw, either at the stadium or watching from home, with family, friends or by ourselves, Taylor Field was the focus of a community that spread out across this province, country and even to other parts of the world., defying explanation and making the Riders the third most popular sports brand by sales in Canada.

I’ll think of the people I can share this moment with, and the people who are no longer around who would never have imagined it.

So this weekend starts off with Edmonton going to Hamilton and this is an interesting game that could be a preview of the eastern semi-final.

Deadmonton saw its remaining effort to maybe sneak into second place fall by the wayside against BC and now will be looking at striking the balance between maintaining momentum heading into the playoffs, not losing players to injury and not tipping their hand to how they will operate in the playoffs.

Hamilton on the other hand redeemed themselves with a win over Ottawa, as predicted in this space, and still has a shot at first place. Zach Collaros is back this week, although that may mean nothing because Collaros will likely over-extend himself in a bid to show leadership and force balls in places where they shouldn’t be going. But then again, Edmonton is used to having people trying to force balls in where they shouldn’t be going.

For that reason, I can see a very competitive game, but an eventual Hamilton 29-28 victory because the stakes and rewards are higher for Hamilton. Edmonton will likely rotate people throughout to make sure people get reps in case of injury in the eastern semifinal. The Eskimos have an outside shot at third, if Benedict Cumerbatch makes a convincing Doctor Strange, but after this weekend, Deadmonton is going east and it would be funny to see them play Ottawa in the Eastern Semifinal.

Meanwhile the next day in Winnipeg, Canada’s Crime Capital, the Ottawa Redblacks go to the crumbling façade of Dollarama Field and attempt to keep their first place dreams alive against the Bombers. Ottawa has motivation to show up and do well, but Winnipeg also has second place to play for and as the toothless Bomber fans who tweeted how much of a tool I was for mocking them have pointed out, the Bombs have a good team this year.

If the universe unfolds as it should and Hamilton beats Deadmonton, the Redblacks and their male menopausal poster child, Henry Burris, will have much to play for against the Blue Devils. The problem is the Blue Devils also have something to play for, and they are for better or worse, in better shape that the Redblacks.

I would expect another close competitive game as the playoff teams start to get their game faces for action in two weeks, but I am going to have to go with the Blue Devils beating the Redblacks 28-26 as Chris Milo misses a game tying field goal on the last play of the game.

Then of course we have the BC Lions coming to town to face the Riders in the last roundup at Taylor Field. Last week’s misstep against Montreal showed the Riders are not yet mentally tough enough to make the step to consistent winners, so this week will go somewhat to see if the Riders can actually rise to the occasion and win an important game at home.

In my 40 years, one of the things I have observed about Rider teams is that when they have an event that is maybe supposed to mean something to the team and motivate them to win, they usually fold. A lot of that is likely due to the poor coaching, management and players that have made up most of those 40 years, but it is a rule of thumb if the game is marketed as important, the Riders will find someway to lose.

That being said, if they beat BC, who is engaged in a dog fight with Winnipeg for second, that will take the edge off of suggestions I have made that the Riders recent winning streak was made against what I like to refer as a Bombers schedule – a parade of soft teams who put up as much resistance as a box of kittens.

So while nostalgia and sentiment may hold out the hope the Riders can close out their 712 game history at Taylor Field with a final win, the reality is until the Riders can demontrate they can swing against the big boys, they should not be given the benefit of the doubt, no matter how historic the occasion may be.

This is why I am picking the Lions to win 30-23, making it a competitive game, but in the end demonstrating the Riders are improving, but are not quite there yet.

Finally we have Calgary against Montreal on Sunday. Montreal’s defense showed why despite its age, it is still a force to be reckoned with against the Riders whom they beat last weekend. While Jerome Messam said Montreal’s defense was the best he has faced this season, the Stumps are looking to move to the best record in modern CFL history at 16-1-1, although I do believe in 1948 they did have an undefeated season.

So with the pressure of making history, the Stumps should be careful of what they wish for. Calgary will not play for three weeks after this game, which if they get some injury concerns, may be enough time to heal up, but perhaps more interestingly, when you sit for that long, you get out of a groove.

As the 1989 Edmonton Eskimos or the 2007 New England Patriots can attest, winning 16 games is a no guarantee of success. So while I am letting my superstitious hillbilly ways run wild with thinking if Calgary gets to 16-1-1 they will jinx themselves, I can’t see them blowing this against Montreal. However, I will be interested to see how Dave Dickenson manages his personnel and if he keeps them in for too long and exposes them to injuries that cost them a shot at the Grey Cup, will anyone care about 16-1-1 versus the opportunity to hoist the Cup?

Calgary wins 28-20.

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