The ’97 Roughriders started 4-3 with the league’s best linebacking crew led by the sizzling superstar talent of K.D. Williams. He was so popular that on the day of the Riders 8th game that season, the Regina Leader Post had a cover page of K.D. with then-Mayor Doug Archer who was up for re-election. The joke was that K.D. could run for mayor and that summer, he probably would have won too. The next 3 games produced back-to-back-to-back losses and led then-broadcaster Geoff Currier to proclaim, “There is something internally wrong with this team”. Williams gets traded to Hamilton and the Riders roll to another Cinderella Run, albeit one that struck midnight in their Grey Cup loss to Doug Flutie and the Argos.
The 2018 Roughriders underachieve to a 3-4 start, release Duron Carter, and then roll to 3 straight wins over western opponents. Somebody (I think it was Mike McCullough and Michael Ball) mentioned on Sunday’s postgame call-in show that this crew is “functioning like a team” since Duron’s departure and it’s a point hard to argue with. The comparison to the situations facing those teams of years past is intriguing. Still early to say if the Riders will appear at the Grey Cup in November like they did in ’89 or ’97 but the jury has deliberated on Chris Jones’ decision to dump Duron for almost a month now. And the verdict is a clear win for the Roughriders head honcho.
2-ZACH’S FIRST MEANINGFUL CONTRIBUTION: This season has belonged to the defense and special teams and Sunday’s Labour Day Classic win over the Blue Bombers was no different. But what jumped out at me was the Riders kill shot play call in the final 2 minutes, unleashing a bomb to Jordan Williams-Lambert near the Winnipeg endzone with the Roughriders clinging to a 1-point lead. After the defense bailed them out again and again, Zach Collaros stepped up into the pocket and made a play on 2nd and long when they needed it the most.
Sure, it wasn’t an easy catch but with all of the drops from his receivers that Zach had to deal with in the 2nd half (including one from Shaq Evans), Collaros really earned this one. This was the first win in which he’s had a real impact. The Rider offense is still a work in progress. And progress was made in that win.
3-I JUST LOATHE THE 13TH MAN BANNER: It reminds me too much of that too many men call in Grey Cup 2009 and is too copycat with the Seattle Seahawks for me to get excited about. I hate it when sports teams copy other teams' rituals like the rest of the NHL does with the Winnipeg Jets white noise idea. Come up with your own ideas please! Build a grain elevator-looking lounge in the north end zone and then you’ll have something original and Saskatchewan. In the meantime, I refuse to stand or cheer for the cheesy 13th man banner unveiling before each game.
4-EVER NOTICE THE RIDERS LABOUR DAY CLASSIC…: …Is never played on Labour Day?
5-CHEER FOR CALGARY: Blasphemy I know! I’m with John Lynch in all of his anti-Calgaryisms. They stole all of our jobs and young people in the 90’s, destroyed our Roughriders while rubbing our noses in it and had some fierce battles with my Vancouver Canucks. I grew up hating Calgary! But the reality is the Stampeders are going to finish in first so that is a lost cause for the Riders and the Stamps still have 4 more contests against western opponents not named Saskatchewan. They can help our beloved team christen the new stadium with a playoff game for our first home playoff party since the 2013 Grey Cup. Here’s to hoping Bo-Levi Mitchell wins the MOP. Go Stamps Go!
6-TRESTMAN VS POPP?: Some interesting tidbits from ‘The Athletic’ and ‘3 Down Nation’ about examples of Argo GM Jim Popp having disagreements with his head coach, Marc Trestman. One anonymous CFL General Manager told The Athletic’s Kirk Penton about the Toronto quarterback situation, “James Franklin was Popp’s guy and McLeod Bethel-Thompson was Trestman’s guy”. Then Popp revealed to 3 Down Nation that he never agreed with the decision to release Duron Carter from the Alouettes 2 years ago and indicated the move was made to appease then-incoming Head Coach Jacques Chapdelaine. Popp lobbied Trestman and his staff to give Duron a shot leading to the Argos signing him. Now disagreements like this are a lot more common than we realize and are healthy for football organizations. Popp and Trestman have been a match made in heaven for 7 seasons now including their time in Montreal and this season as well. But Popp also worked with Montreal team president Larry Smith for a long time before a power struggle between those 2 helped push Larry out of the Alouettes front office. Something to keep an eye on anyways.
7-EATING CROW OVER JUNE JONES: When the Ticats brought him in at midseason last year, I was just certain he was going to be a disaster. “They probably won’t win a game all season”, I remember chirping from the Sportscage Studio. They won 6 of their last 10 from there. Then he hired his old pal, 76-year-old Elvis fanatic Jerry Glanville to run the Hamilton Defense this season. ‘Now this will blow up in their face!’ I told myself. It hasn’t. Only the Stampeders and Redblacks have surrendered fewer points in the first 10 games. And then I decided that Jeremiah Masoli wouldn’t get a fair shake from June Jones due to his perceived obsession with Johnny Manziel. Wrong again! June committed to Jeremiah in training camp and rewarded him by clearing the way for Johnny Football to be traded out of town. Nicely done June Jones! As a CFL fan I must say, “We’re lucky to have you!”.
8-NOAH PICTON HAS NO RECEVERS: I heard that observation on the Sportscage last week and after watching the University of Regina Rams season opening 49-35 loss to the University of Calgary Dinos on SaskTel Friday night, I would have to agree. The O-line gave the Rams star quarterback lots of time to throw the ball, running back Atlee Simon provided an adequate ground game and Picton himself made good decisions and good throws but his receivers just weren’t open enough to receive the ball consistently.
The teams on which Peyton Manning played for always made sure he had a Ferrari to drive by investing in top-end pass-catchers either through the draft or free agency. Right now it looks like the U of R Rams have a Toyota Corolla for Noah Picton to drive. It's a good car that’ll get the job done, but won’t put up the gaudy numbers we’re used to seeing from this high-powered attack. Look for Calgary and UBC to fight it out for 1st and 2nd place in Canada West this fall with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies and U of R duking it out for the 3rd and 4th playoff spots, not necessarily in that order.
9-REGINA THUNDER ROLL: At 2-1, the Thunder just might be the 2nd best junior football program in all of Canada. Problem is, they opened the season against the 1st best program in the country, the Saskatoon Hilltops. The other big threat from the Prairie Football Conference is the Edmonton Huskies whom the Thunder beat on the road over the weekend. Another win over those Huskies back in Regina next Sunday at Mosaic Stadium should solidify Regina for a home playoff game and allow the program to set its sights squarely on Saskatoon. Bold statement for early September I know, but a trifecta for the Riders, Rams and Thunder in 2018 would be just too tantalizing to not think about.
10-BOOK/DOCUMENTARY OF THE WEEK: HARD KNOCKS: TRAINING CAMP WITH THE CLEVELAND BROWNS sounds funny all by itself but it really is former Roughrider O-line coach Bob Wylie who steals the show. One former Rider tells me Bob hasn’t changed a bit since 2009 when he was a regular on the CKRM Coaches Show other than that “his belly has grown a lot since then”. Wylie gets rave reviews for his tutorials about stretching being overrated and comparisons of actual hogs to offensive linemen and their centre of gravity. This is an HBO production you can find online.
(You can follow Brendan on Twitter at @brendanhowardmc)