The only members of the Riders who were ready to perform Saturday night were apparently the marketing team, as the Riders dropped their final game at Taylor Field 24-6 to the BC Lions.
The Riders had been billing this season as the Farewell Season with the subtext being the team would attempt to live up to the expectations of closing a field that has hosted over 700 Saskatchewan/Regina Roughrider games.
This was the final game, much like the final game at Maple Leaf Gardens, the Montreal Forum or Yankee Stadium, at a place that has seen more Canadian Football games than any other place in Canada, or likely will.
So while the fans were filling the airwaves and web pages with memories and dissecting what coming to Taylor Field meant, the Riders came out with a defense made of Swiss cheese, an offensive line made of Swiss cheese and well, nothing but the hope of better days ahead.
The Riders continued their #longesttrainingcampever routine by switching in quarterbacks Darian Durant and Jake Waters, although it seems Waters had his arm in a sling after the game, the result of getting creamed by BC Lions consistent blitzing.
So while Jones decided to use the game as an excuse to evaluate players, the way they were being evaluated couldn’t help but make one wonder if Rider GM/Head Coach Chris Jones was flipping a rather large bird to Rider fans by treating this game as if it didn’t matter.
In a sense Jones was right, the Riders had long been long eliminated from the playoffs and winning on Saturday wouldn’t have changed that. The game was important for Rider fans because for the last time, they could come from all over the province and even as far as Thailand to share in the sense of community Taylor Field had created.
The fans deserved better than what the Riders delivered, or tried to deliver on the field. The Riders had cruised through what I call the “Blue Bomber” portion of the schedule playing soft Eastern Division teams and was now playing a playoff calibre team.
The Riders responded by shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly, seemingly having checked out of the schedule two weeks before the season was over. Of course after the game, in coffee shops around town, there were angry old men who said Darian Durant had lost it by throwing the ball into the ground, refusing to listen to the pressure Durant was under and how throwing the ball away prevented worse things from happening.
But that is part of the magic of Taylor Field, for three hours at a time, at least 10 times a year, rational thought was parked outside and we all took a walk to a place where sometimes the unbelievable could happen and miracles were a regular part of life.
I’ve been guilty of that as well having seen the occasional miracle that kept me coming back when it would have been easier to walk away and find a less stressing form of entertainment. However the moments when everything in the universe fell into place and you saw it play out on the field, you could believe in a higher power and understand that cheering for this team was never easy, will never be easy, but the payoff has been spectacular.
It’s something Chris Jones may dismiss, or misunderstand, at his own risk. When I lived in Prince Albert, going to a Rider game was a commitment of about 12 hours and a lot of miles. If you live in North Battleford or elsewhere, it was more time and a greater distance and to undertake that meant the games being played in Taylor Field meant something.
In brief terms, a Rider win meant the province, regardless of political, social or sexual orientation, was feeling better about itself for the rest of the week. You could see someone wearing green, smile, and give the universial greeting – Go Riders!
On the other hand a Rider loss made the rest of week, regardless of weather, utterly miserable.
Rider fans have carried the weight for this team for many years and deserved one last kick at success, one last storybook finish in a place that almost had the patent on storybook finishes. However the team that showed up showed its lack of connection with not just itself, but with the fans.
I could put it down to a lack of mental toughness, or awareness, and I suspect that Chris Jones would not disagree with me on that if we were having a beer somewhere on the Tennessee border. The unfortunate thing is that people want an instant fix and there isn’t really such a thing, because this team, on paper at least, is attempting to build for the long term.
For any organization looking to succeed on a long term basis, they need a structure in place that transcends the people involved in it so when those people leave, the organization can continue to move ahead with a minimum of interruption.
The hope is that next year, in the new stadium, there will be a team that will not let down the people of Saskatchewan like the 2016 team did Saturday night. For the Saskatchewan Roughriders sake, that better be the scenario for 2017 because when the 2018 season starts and season ticket prices rise to new levels, because next year is a “transition year” the Riders will see how much goodwill they still have and more importantly, how much the people of Saskatchewan are prepared to pay.
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