The CFL season has 77 games. 76 of those have came and went. Some we remember, some we’d like to forget, others we’d like to remember but can’t due to alcohol related amnesia. The 77th game is greater than all of the others combined. When it kicks off on Sunday afternoon the results of the previous 76 games will become as valuable as my Akili Smith rookie card. It’s one game for the top prize in Canadian Football.
This time around is a weird feeling as a Rider fan. Normally, Rider trips to the Grey Cup come decades apart and as such seem like a brand new event those rare times they come up. This time though, we are but 24 months removed from hoisting the Cup in Toronto... it almost seems like business as usual this time around. If history is any indication this Grey Cup appearance is about 8-10 years earlier than expected.
Of course all the talk so far this week has centered around how good the Alouettes are. They are 15-3, they have the top offense in the league, they have the stingiest defense, Calvillo is robotically efficient in picking apart defenses, they beat the Riders twice, their sweat has been reported to cure rare blood disorders in underprivileged kids, and their linemen donate their back hair to make winter coats for hairless dogs. The way the picture is being painted, it would take 7 simultaneous miracles for the Riders to even be competitive in this game. And while much of the hype in well founded. There are plenty of reasons for optimism as Rider fans…
- This “top offense” only scored one more TD than the Riders and relied on FGs for the rest of their output.
- This “top defense” was torched by Durant for over 300 yards the last time we played and Durant has improved greatly since that game.
- Calvillo is not as good as last year. He threw for 17 less TDs and 1000 less yards compared to last year. He was a better QB last year and couldn’t win the big one, why are his odds suddenly better this year?
- In our last meeting we held AC under 200 passing yards and sacked him 4 times. If not for some costly turnovers and a bad punt return TD we had a chance to beat the Als.
- This is essentially the same Alouette team that lost last year at home but instead of the friendly confines of Olympic Stadium they get to experience Mosaic’s Stadium new temporary location… which is anything but friendly.
- This decade the Calvillo led Als are 1-5 in the big game. They're like a French Buffalo Bills (well except the Als at least managed to win once and the Bills likely bathe once in a while).
Don’t get me wrong, the Als will be extremely tough to beat but the odds are nowhere near as impossible as they are being made out to be. The Als are the best team in the CFL and admittedly a better team than us on paper but when it all comes down to 60 minutes, anything can happen. Sports history is littered with highly favoured teams who came up short when it mattered most: the ’76 Riders, ’89 Eskimos, the ’02 St. Louis Rams, the ’07 Pakistan Cricket team, ’75 Chess Grandmaster Nicolas Rossolimo. Most famously remember the ’08 Patriots. They were shattering scoring records and treating their opponents like speed bumps on their way to eventual perfection and seemed unstoppable… until one fateful Sunday when they dominance was abruptly halted by a supposedly inferior team. Sound familiar?
Two things will have to happen for the Riders to emerge victorious. #1 – Darian Durant will have to be our MVP. He has to play turnover-free football. He’s proven before that he can beat the Als through the air, so he needs to step up and do it again. I think Bagg and Fantuz will have big games. #2 – Our secondary needs to play the game of their lives. They need to make Calvillo hold the ball long enough for our pass rush to get there. If the short passing game is there for AC and his cast of talented receivers, he will pick us apart without even coming close to taking a hit. We need to hit him hard and often. That will require good coverage in the secondary to give our line that extra second to get to the QB.
Special teams will also play a big role in this game. Both teams feature returners capable of taking one back at any time and I predict we will see a return TD on Sunday… I just pray that Armstead is the one to do it.
Montreal has the advantage in terms of skill but I think the Riders bring an emotional edge which will be heightened by a raucous home crowd… not to mention the presence of their very own Prophet who will lead them to the promised land. It will be a high scoring, closely fought battle that will be decided late in the 4th quarter. Calvillo may hoist the league MOP tonight but on Sunday the Riders resiliency will shine through and they will be the ones to hoist the Cup for only the 4th time in franchise history.
Riders by an Andy Fantuz TD.
If you will be one of the thousands of Rider fans joining me in the streets of Calgary on Saturday or the stands of McMahon on Sunday let’s get ready for a crazy weekend culminating in the biggest game of the year (which will likely coincide with the biggest hangover of the year).