The year was 1997. The world was mourning the loss of Notorious BIG, Princess Di and Mother Teresa; listening to Hanson sing MMMBop and having illicit thoughts about Kate Winslet in Titanic. At least I know I was. But even more important than naked sketches on a sinking ship was the fact that 1997 was the last time that the Saskatchewan Roughriders played for the Grey Cup. The game, much like the movie, was not an easy one for any self-respecting Rider fan to endure, but at least the game was Celine Dion-free.
Yes, the game a decade in the making is now but days away. This Sunday our Saskatchewan Roughriders will face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 95th Grey Cup - the first time these two teams will square off for Canadian football's top prize. Both teams are currently enduring the longest Grey Cup droughts in the CFL (Rider since '89 and Bombers since '90). One of these mathematically unlikely streaks is about to come to an end. Like most Rider fans, I have been bouncing off the walls with excitement since the end of the West Final (which has angered my landlord so if you know of a good drywaller please let me know).
The game features 2 very good teams; a quick look at the stats will tell you that. Their offense was 2nd in the league in yards, fueled by 3 1000 yd receivers and a RB that ran for 1300. Our offense was 2nd only to BC in the league in scoring, led by a QB that threw 24 TDs and rushed for 13 more. Their defense was #3 in the league against the pass. Our defense was #1 in the league against the rush. But stats at this point are about as useful as Michael Vick in my football draft. It doesn't matter what has happened over the last 20 weeks. This is one game to decide it all.
That said, there is one more stat I would like to mention, since Winnipeg leads the league in this category... singles off missed field goals. Yes, no one shanks kicks more consistently than Troy Westwood. Nothing like having the least reliable kicker in the league heading into the most important game. Apparently Westwood tripped and fell in the locker room and hit his head the other day. There were concerns over his mental alertness headed into the big game. To be sure, the trainer asked him what 4 plus 4 was. Troy replied 8. The other Bomber players all yelled out is dismay, "Aww, he got it wrong!" But in fairness to Westwood, this is his big chance at a haircut 6 years in the making, so we'll see how he responds.
You can't talk about the game without talking about Winnipeg's QB situation. Sadly, Winnipeg will be playing for the championship without East MVP Kevin Glenn who broke his arm last week against the Alouettes. I personally would have preferred to see Glenn and Joseph duke it out for Cup but unfortunately thems the breaks (oooh... maybe a poor choice of words). Regardless, Winnipeg's fate now rests in the hands of Ryan Dinwiddie, a guy who has not thrown a TD in the CFL or even started a game for that matter. However, the Riders cannot be overconfident or Dinwiddie may burn us. There's no denying that Dinwiddie was a great QB in college… but then again so was Akili Smith and look how well that turned out.
The keys to wining will be the same as last week: Stop the run and blitz like mad. Good receivers mean jack when you're QB is brutal (just ask Clermont, Simon, Lewis, Copeland and Bruce).
The game will be closer than many are predicting, but when time expires on Sunday the Riders will be the ones to hoist the Grey Cup. And when they do, people across Saskatchewan will pour into the streets and the biggest party in the province this millennium will ensue.
I'll end with a few jokes to get you in the Grey Cup mood...
Apparently Doug Berry will only be dressing 20 players for the game. He's confident the others can figure it out on their own.
Q: What do you call 46 guys in a room watching the Grey Cup?
A: The BC Lions
Sit back and enjoy the weekend Rider fans, we've waited a long time for this.