I am a huge Saskatchewan Roughriders fan. Have been for years. People I work with will ask me when games are, or how the game went, cuz I watch the game and try to keep up with the news from the team. Sometimes it’s hard, though. I become very anxious just before the game, to the point where I’m wondering if I’ll watch the game or not! Of course, most of the time I don’t listen to that little voice in my head, and I’ll watch the game and cheer on the team. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. I’ve learned over the years, though, to temper my “fan”aticism with a little common sense. The world will not end tomorrow if the Riders lose. The sun will still rise the next morning. I will still have to go to work. The big picture is that the Riders only occupy a small part of my world – most of it is taken up with family and work.
Now, this has been a very tough couple of years for the Rider Nation, as we fans like to style ourselves. After winning the 2013 Grey Cup in our own stadium, 2014 was looking to be a great year. We headed into the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg (the weekend after the Labour Day Classic, held in Regina), sitting 7-2, and looking to add more wins. Then our QB, Darian Durant, was injured. He was hit in his throwing elbow. It looked pretty bad. Our backup QB came in and we won the game. The next couple of games were split between a win and a loss. Then the wheels seemed to come off the entire team – and we lost the next 5 games. We won our last regular home game, but lost our semi-final game. While it was definitely disappointing, I thought, “Ok, let’s work on next year – get Doubles back healthy, and we’ll be good to go.”
Wow was I wrong.
2015 was a disastrous year. We lost Darian to a freak Achilles tear suffered in the first regular game of the season. We ended up going 3-15. Shades of yesteryear (being the early 80’s where attendance was horrid and the team held telethons to keep going or else fold) went through the collective heads of Rider Nation. Our backup QBs were not good. We fired the GM and the head coach after the Labour Day Classic and promoted from within 2 individuals to be the interim GM and HC. Shortly after the Grey Cup was awarded to the Edmonton Eskimos, our CEO (because the Riders are a community-owned team) made the announcement that he had hired the coach of the Eskimos to be our GM/HC. Chris Jones brought his entire coaching staff, minus one, to Saskatchewan.
And Rider Nation, from what I could tell, was elated.
I am on and like to read Twitter. And from what I could tell on my Twitter feed, people were feeling pretty good about hiring Coach Jones and his team. There were probably people who weren’t terribly happy – I’d imagine the Eskimo fans were pretty upset. If that had been my team’s coach and staff moving to a rival, I’d have been upset too. Hopefully I would have figured out that getting the kind of opportunity to not just coach but also become the GM of a CFL team is just something you don’t pass up. Anyway, people were already dreaming about heading to the Grey Cup, having a winning year, etc etc. I decided to temper my expectations. I was hoping for a 6-12 year. I had been burned last year by expecting great things, and getting absolutely crushed when the team under-performed every game.
Coach Jones made a lot of moves during the off-season. He released a whole slew of players, including some very popular players (Tyron Brackenridge comes to mind). Rider Nation wasn’t happy about that, but as a fan, we don’t have that much power as to what the coach decides to do. Then Coach released 2 very popular players – Weston Dressler and John Chick, just before they were due bonuses. Thankfully, both players went on to find employment elsewhere. Again, Rider Nation wasn’t happy with this move. Again, the fans can’t do much about what the organization decides to do. Coach and his staff went scouting for new players…younger players. They held try-out camps all over the US. They signed some people, released other people. We waited to see what this new team was going to look like. We didn’t know a lot of these new players. We signed some vets as well. We waited with baited breath to see what the pre-season games would bring.
I’ve learned over the years not to expect much from pre-season games. It’s still training camp. Each team is trying out new personnel.
In the end we lost both our games, but we knew that Darian was coming back, healthy and strong, and we all looked forward to a better year than last year. Rider Nation was anxious to return to winning ways, with a coach/defensive co-ordinator known for blitzing and bring pressure on the QB.
Well, those winning ways have not yet show up. We sit at 1-5, the bottom of the league. We are told to be patient – by players, by the coach. Some are patient but many are not. We keep hoping…
…then this week happens.
A player from another team begins a Twitter storm, accusing the Riders of cheating. Breaking the rules. And the Rider Nation goes nuts. We defend our team. There’s no way this could be our team. Our team is run with integrity. We don’t break the rules. The CFL is aware of the allegations and are investigating. The coach seems unperturbed by the brewing controversy. However, by 5 pm Sask time today, we find out the awful truth. The Riders have been investigated by the CFL for bylaw violations for weeks. The Riders are fined $60 000 for those violations, and $26 000 is subtracted from our salary cap of $5.1 million. The commissioner of the league issues the following statement:
“As Commissioner, I am compelled to make decisions consistent with protecting the competitive balance within our League, the spirit of our rules and the integrity of our game. The recent conduct, behaviour and activities of the Saskatchewan Roughriders have compromised the reputation of the CFL.”
Seeing this in print makes me sad. It makes me sick to my stomach. It shakes my belief that our organization has always worked within the confines of the CFL rules and bylaws. As I listen to people like Rod Pederson, and read things on Twitter from other journalists and fans of other teams, it makes it hard to be a Rider fan. It’s bad enough that other fanbases are constantly after us, insulting us, calling us rednecks and hillbillies. Insulting my home province. Not everyone in those fanbases is like this. I believe that most fans are good people, cheering for their teams, just like I cheer for mine. But those very vocal few, who think that being a fan means denigrating and insulting other fans, those people frankly piss me off.
Believe me, I know that there are a few vocal Rider fans who do the same thing. It’s not right. People have the right to cheer for their team. It doesn’t have to be the same as mine. We can all enjoy the CFL product and the athletes that play, week in and week out, without insulting each other. Some people believe that a little trash talk doesn’t hurt. And if that’s what it is, just trash talk, fine. Have at it. But some fans go too far and fling insults like so much chaff in the wind. Frankly, it’s tiring, and it shows a lack of good grace and common decency. I’d love to ask some of these people, “Have you ever been to Saskatchewan? Have you been to a Rider game in Regina? DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE EVEN TALKING ABOUT???” It’s ignorant, and it’s ridiculous. I do my best to ignore them, but it’s days like this where it’s just a little too much.
Tomorrow, the sun will still come up. I will still have to go to work. And on Saturday, I will volunteer at the game. Because even though I’m disappointed in our GM/HC, I still love my team. They’re my guys. And I won’t give up on them.
Perhaps this very heavy cloud has a silver lining. Perhaps this will be both a wake-up call to the league and to the teams, that these kind of infractions need to dealt with. While some people are calling the fines a joke, and others are sighing a breath of relief that more didn’t happen, it is a wake-up call that the league can and will find out if you’re breaking the rules. Did I want to find out about this on Twitter, from a rival QB? Hell no. Still, what’s done is done. The organization will hold their press conference tomorrow regarding this series of events, and we will hear from them what happened, and what will happen in the future. And we will move on from this.
Rider Nation will survive.