November 24, 2013, REGINA (ISN) – The wait is over and it’s finally time to play football on Sunday evening, as the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats meet in the 101st Grey Cup Championship at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium.
That means no more clichés, as the best team from the East and the best team from the West will do the rest of their talking on the field – something everyone is thankful for.
For the Riders Sunday is about making history, as they aim to win in the heart of Riderville for the first time in their storied 103-year existence. It’s a feat that isn’t lost on anyone.
“Guys have talked about it,” said Riders’ head coach Corey Chamblin. “Leaving a long-lasting legacy, and that’s what this game will be for each team.”
Regina is a football mecca in this country, and this weekend the city has taken it to a new level. The matchup, meanwhile, couldn’t have been dreamed any better.”The winner of this game, there will be a legacy there,” he continued. “And it’s a bigger legacy for the Riders, but guys understand it. I understand it.”
Andy Fantuz is playing just his second game back since opting to leave as a free agent a couple of seasons ago. The head coach of the visiting team – his picture is on the side of the stadium, while his own parking spot remains intact.
And then of course there’s the return of Henry Burris. If booing him and chanting his name almost a decade after he left still hasn’t gotten old yet, it never will.
“It’s going to be packed, it’s going to be exciting,” said Chamblin. “They’re going to be screaming his name and I think those are the things that’ll be remembered about this Grey Cup.”
“There’s always going to be a time when you look back years from now and they’ll talk about the chanting of Henry, they’ll talk about the play of Darian Durant, Kory Sheets, all those guys – that’s what’s going to make this a very memorable Grey Cup.”
For Chamblin, Sunday’s game comes down to destiny. The Riders’ story so far is a special one, and they have a chance to make it their destiny to bring the city its fourth Grey Cup Championship and become immortalized in CFL history.
With that, though, the second-year head coach pointed out that a win on Sunday could also be the Ticats’ to call destiny.
“Like I told the guys, a lot is going on within this year but I believe some things are destined to be,” he said. “Here we are now and at the end of the game destiny’s going to call out, she’s going to say congratulations champ.”
“Whoever’s done the best job all year and does the best job in the game, that’s who she’ll be talking to. So I think it’s a great opportunity for two teams, whoever does what they need to do, reaches out and grabs it and takes a hold of it, they’ll be the ones to be remembered.”
While the Riders take on the ‘destiny’ and ‘protect our house’ mentality, the Ticats are taking an ‘us against the world’ approach – although it doesn’t mean they feel like they’re underdogs.
“This is not David vs. Goliath like a lot of people are trying to say,” Burris said one day before the big game. Instead the Ticats see it as two great teams on equal footing, looking to prove once and for all who’s number one.
“My thing is if you’re trying to do the ultimate, you’ve got to go in against the ultimate,” he continued. “To be able to come into Riderville and play against their fans will be the ultimate challenge to become inevitable and become immortal at the end of the day.”
“And we’re up to that challenge and we’re looking forward to it.”
One thing the Ticats have become notorious for this season is not making excuses, even if they’ve had numerous opportunities to do just that.
In a season where they had to bus to practice at McMaster University every day and also all the way to Guelph on game days, there were built-in reasons for failure from the beginning. Cold showers after practices and a less-than-ideal, although intimate situation at Alumni Stadium only grew the list of potential distractions.
“Those are things that we had to learn to not focus on,” Austin told media following Saturday’s short walkthrough. “Taking a cold shower after practice or after the game didn’t have anything to do with playing the game, or preparation the next day.”
“It’s something you put up with, no big deal – welcome to the game of life,” he continued. “We don’t whine about things like that or make excuses.”
Additionally the Ticats were one of the youngest teams in the league this season, and also the most banged up, dealing constantly with injured starters.
Yet as Austin pointed out, all of those possible distractions have actually come in handy during Grey Cup week – one where it’s easy to get caught up in the storylines, and lose focus of what truly matters.
This week the Ticats aren’t thinking about their youth or the bad weather, or anything else for that matter.
“We need to focus on the team that we’re playing, within the lines that we’re playing and the field that we’re playing on,” Austin said. “All of the other stuff around it cannot impact your emotional makeup.”
“We want to keep it even-keel with our emotions. We know it’s an emotional game, but at the end of the day you play with your heart and your head.”
While both teams have overcome these types of distractions to prepare in the best way possible for Sunday’s game, the 101st Grey Cup also delivers an intriguing matchup on the field.
The Ticats are a young team that is getting better every week, both offensively and defensively. They’re the hottest team in the league with wins in seven of eight games, and they’re coming off a momentous win over the defending Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts.
Led by an explosive receiving corps and one of the best all-around running backs in the league, their goal is to keep Saskatchewan’s also-lethal offence off the field by sustaining long drives that end with scores.
“We’re gonna take what their defence gives us because we understand what type of monster we’re going up against,” said Burris. “Just like against Toronto last week, if we can keep Darian and all his weapons on the sideline that’s the best defence against any great offence.”
The Ticats trailed by two touchdowns in the first half of that game, but in the final 30 minutes played keep away from Ricky Ray, which helped the defence pitch a second-half shutout to lead to the win.
“We just want to stay on the field and put points on the board, but we’re gonna be playing with a lot of effort, a lot of emotion, we’re gonna be jumping around because we’re excited to be here,” Burris continued.
“Nobody’s giving us a chance here and we just want to come out and do exactly what we know we can do and do the things that it takes to be victorious.”
For the Roughriders, the key to seizing this once in a lifetime opportunity will be to continue playing do or die football, which begins and ends with Durant.
“That’s the time when you need to have that do or die attitude, and that’s what I’ve had,” said Durant. “Hopefully we can just come out and play Rider football.”
The 31-year-old has epitomized what Rider football means through the team’s first two playoff games, as he’s played arguably the best football of his career and put the team on his shoulders to get here.
“Let’s keep them off balance, make sure we can keep Kory Sheets going and let our defence fly around,” Durant said. “That’s our recipe for success and hopefully we can get that going.”