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Monday, July 18, 2016


REGINA -- Well Rider Nation, where are we at this morning?

Or in the words of the immortal John Lynch - the Hall of Fame Roughrider broadcaster from the 1970's and 80's -, "Where do we go from here, caller?"

Your Jolly Green Giants are the CFL's only winless team at 0-3 following their latest defeat, 40-27 at the hands of the B.C. Lions Saturday night at Mosaic Stadium.  In the fourth quarter of Saturday's game when Lions punter Richie Leone hit a 69-yard punt single and their point total hit 40, I winced.  That's a lot of points to give up.

And the script continued to follow the disturbing narrative from the past two years; without Darian Durant, this team can't win.

The Face of the Franchise went down with a "lower body injury" in the second quarter of Saturday's game, with his Roughriders leading 10-7.  And has has been the case with Tino Sunseri, Seth Doege, Kerry Joseph, Kevin Glenn, Brett Smith and now the little-known Mitchell Gale, no back-up has been able to rally this team to victory without the vaunted Riders' #4.

No coaching staff has discovered the magic formula to overcome Durant's absence either.  At least, not yet.

Had Durant finished Saturday's game, Saskatchewan wins it.  Hands down.  But for whatever reason, the roof over Canada's Team habitually falls in without their leader.

Why do defensive backs suddenly have brain farts and blow coverages when Durant's watching on the sidelines in a t-shirt and ball cap?  Why can't defenders hang onto a sure interception even when Durant's not even on the field?  It's what's called "a phenomena".  The unexplained.

The Webster's Dictionary definition of "phenomena":  "something (such as an interesting fact or event) that can be observed and studied and that typically is unusual or difficult to understand or explain."


The impact of Darian Durant on this franchise's fortunes is truly inexplicable and definitely underrated.  And now the team is, again, looking at making plans for "Life Without Darian" as they prepare to host the Ottawa RedBlacks this Friday night at Mosaic Stadium.  Durant's immediate status is uncertain, other than the pivot told reporters on the weekend that the injury is not long-term.

And it's time to face facts.  Since Darian Durant went down with a season-ending injury in the 2014 Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg, the club is 5-25.

That is a helluva lot of losing.

Is it any wonder none of the three home games this year have been sellouts?

Now you can't hang much of this on the new Saskatchewan Roughrider braintrust of Chris Jones and John Murphy because they're not responsible for anything that happened prior to 2016.  But they understand that losing does not go over well in the 306 and know full well that the natives are getting restless.

"I know this: we've got a lot of character in that room and I saw a lot of bright eyes in there," said a hopeful Chris Jones after Saturday's game.  "Hadn't been that long ago (in 2011), B.C. started 0-5 and ended up going to the Grey Cup.  It's a long season and we've gotta just continue to scratch and claw and we've got a good solid character group, players and coaches included.

"All we can do is all we can do.  We're not gonna throw the baby out with the bathwater."

It's clear Saskatchewan is slowly falling in love with Jones, his southern drawl and folksy sayings but these fans would turn on their own mother if she had a losing record.

31,014 Rider fans nearly filled the stadium on Saturday and they showed up with a chip on their shoulder.  It was a perfect summer night and the fans were primed for a victory.  They were loud, and had a serious edge.  But they left silent and dejected with 2:06 remaining when their team turned it over on downs.

And now, we wait to see how the fanbase deals with an 0-3 start this week.  The Roughriders understand if the fans are upset.

"Of course," shrugged Jones' righthand man John Murphy.  "I'm not saying that's their role but that's their role.  When we're winning you should be supportive, happy and content but if we win one in-a-row, you want to see two.  If we win 10 in-a-row, you want to see 11.  You never should be satisfied as a fan no matter how well we're doing, and then be okay with the fact if we give our best for four quarters and it doesn't turn out.  I'm very fine with you being as hyper-critical as you want to because it's your dollars."

These are football guys who know the score and aren't insecure.  In a refreshing change of philosophy around here, they're going to give it to you straight.

Now it's up to YOU whether you want to hang around on the bangwagon to see how it all plays out, beginning this Friday night and in the subsequent weeks leading up to November.

Are you living with this team or are you dying with this team?

I'd truly love to know.



1 - BROOKS AND DONE:  There's no question that the low hit by B.C. defensive tackle Micha'el Brooks was a deliberate attempt to injure Darian Durant.  The Lions' #90 was falling at Durant's feet but he swooped his legs in a "slewfoot" motion and clipped the Rider quarterback in the back of the legs.  However when the CFL head office examines the tape early this week, the worst punishment Brooks will suffer is likely to be a fine.

On play #14 Brooks was flagged for facemasking Durant while play #47 was the one where he took out Durant's legs.  There was talk this spring that any player guilty of two major fouls would be ejected from the game but that idea was not included in the list of rule changes that was announced on April 7.

2 - C'MON GUYS:  I was appalled to read the media's reaction on Twitter to Friday's eyesore of a game in Montreal, a Hamilton 31-7 victory over the Alouettes.  It's fine to point out that the game was a debacle, but one reporter said he was only there because he was being paid while another wondered what CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge would say about the game, since he was in attendance.  Like Orridge had any control over what was going on on the field.

Any CFL fan reading these reports certainly wouldn't be scrambling to turn the television on to watch the game.  Is that what we want?  Dissuading fans from our product?  It's not necessarily the media's responsiblity to promote the CFL but what happened Friday night on Twitter was a "snowball effect" of negative coverage with each reporter trying one-up the next guy with snide remarks about the game.

To me, it went far over the line.

3 - WOE IS WINNIPEG:  Edmonton receiver Adarius Bowman ate up the Blue Bombers to the tune of 185 yards in the Eskimos' 20-16 victory over the Blue & Gold.  TSN panelist Jock Climie observed that things might be different for the Bombers - and quarterback Drew Willy - if they had a game-changing receiver like Bowman in their lineup.  I thought that comment was quite a stretch because it would take far more than Bowman to make Winnipeg a contender at this point.

Now the hand-wringing in Winnipeg has resumed with the Bombers' 1-3 start and calls for Head Coach Mike O'Shea's head are being heard far and wide.  However it's the play of Drew Willy which should be of utmost concern and while watching the game, I thought to myself maybe we jumped the gun on annointing Willy among the league's elite quarterbacks.  TSN 1290 Winnipeg's Troy Westwood feels Willy has never recovered mentally from the severe concussion and knee injuries he's suffered in the past and he may never be the same again.

Really it's up to Drew to prove everybody wrong, and turn this Bomber season around.

4 - TAMPERING:  Major League Baseball's investigation into the All Star break comments by Boston's David Ortiz regarding his Red Sox signing pending free agent Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays had rammifications across all pro sports.  Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning was harshly fined for making similar off-the-cuff remarks about NHL free agents at last month's Draft.

It's easy for the league office to investigate such public remarks but it's far more difficult to nail down the true tampering - that done via text message, email or phone conversations by league Presidents, General Managers or coaches.

The greatest example of this in the CFL is the Riders luring Chris Jones away from the Eskimos and the still-unanswered question of:  When exactly did Rider President Craig Reynolds contact Jones for the first time?

We'll never know, and that's why tampering will never be snuffed out entirely.

Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge introduced a splashy new Anti-Tampering Policy this off-season but all it's done is cause management types to go even more "underground" in their recruiting.

I suggest leagues stop the fruitless exercise of eliminating tampering because they never will get rid of it entirely.

5 - GLUEY HUGHIE:  I can't remember when I've had as much fun as interviewing all those members of the 1966 Grey Cup champion Riders last week.  They included George Reed, Dale West, Wayne Shaw, Hugh Campbell and Alan Ford and the club said it really enhanced ticket sales.

Thursday was our chance to interview Campbell - a 2000 inductee into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame - and I asked him if the "Rider Pride" tradition began in the 1960's when he showed up from Saratoga, CA.  However Hughie said it was already alive and well when he showed up in 1963.

When he recounted all of the things Rider fans did back then (staging rallies for the team, decorating their houses in green and white, travelling on the road for games), it was remarkable because they're still doing all the same things.

Where and when did this phenomenon start?

6 - BLACKOUTS:  The Riders will likely be scrambling to sell seats for this Friday's home game against the Ottawa RedBlacks.  They even introduced a "Flash Special" last week, blowing out endzone seats for about $20.

It's supposed to be a long, hot week and hopefully by Friday fans will be in the mood to come watch the Riders in a night game at home.

However the allure of staying home and watching on television may simply be far too great.

The Riders haven't blacked out a televised home game since 2006 and my guess is they never will again.

However if attendance dips below 90% of capacity, they'll be well within their rights to.

Many of us thought the Farewell Season would be an automatic sellout from pillar to post.

Guess we don't know everything.

7 - OH WHAT A FEELING!:  This never gets old -

That's two straight weeks in the money!  It didn't take long to figure out the nuances of the Canadian football game and how to best-use them to win at DraftKings.

Would it be worthwhile to stage a Fantasy Football segment in the SportsCage weekly?  This enhancement to the CFL has made the games infinitely more enjoyable.

8 - SMASHING MILESTONES:  This blog topped 16-million all-time hits over the weekend and I'm proud to say our new policy on Anonymous Commenting has done nothing to hinder readership.  Thank you for your continued support and here's to many more years of reporting on the Roughriders and the local sports scene on this blog!

9 - ONE MORE:  I'd like to wish long-time Rider Radio analyst Carm Carteri a belated Happy 60th Birthday!  We celebrated Carm's birthday in his backyard on Sunday with several Rider alumni and close family and friends of the Carm's.  His family truly went above and beyond with this birthday cake commemorating Taylor Field and the old Carteri house where Carm was raised on Garnet Street right in the shadow of the Grand Ol' Lady.