The best advertising a league could provide has to be the way the CFL looks at Sunday’s western final. The Lions and the Riders battled like heavyweights throughout the sixty plus minutes of the Western final, a lead changing hands five times, big plays and big mistakes the tale of this wild finale for the Western division.
And while a field goal kicker has been given the goats horns for a missed field goal, there is probably more than enough blame to go around. The Green Riders had the chance to put this final away (or as close as you ever get to away in a Western final) when Kenton Keith fumbled on the Lions five yard line. Seven points slipping away, a penalty call nullified another Saskatchewan touchdown on a Henry Burris pass, seven more points gone, gone, gone. And while we don’t want to pile on Paul McCallum, he certainly has had better days kicking field goals.
Perhaps GM Roy Shivers will review the tape and reassess his harsh criticism of McCallum, when in the heat of the post game disappointment he singled out McCallum as the reason for the loss. The Rider Nation may share in that decision, but on the whole McCallum can make some room on the guilt bench. One hopes they’ve run out of manure in Saskatchewan, or at least sobered up enough to leave the game behind. There are a few acres of hurt on the flatlands today, as the Green Riders and their legion of fans came oh so close, only to let a shot at the Grey Cup slip away, bouncing on the five yard line or drifting wide left. Once again it will be next year country in Saskatchewan.
Then there’s the never say die BC Lions, a team that seems to make last minute comebacks part of the game plan each week. The finish was a sense of Déjà vu for the Leos who are getting used to snatching victory from jaws of teams in Green. Starting QB Casey Printers was struggling in the first half of the final, gaining some yardage but not finishing the deal finding the end zone to be an elusive place to put a football. Just as the CBC commentators were getting ready to banish him to the sidelines he caught fire, leading the Lions down the field in a major offensive.
With Printers finally hitting his stride, the Lions began to roll up the yardage and make the plays that the 55,000 plus had come to expect game in and game out this year. Hardly breaking a stride they picked up the pace when Printers was forced to the sidelines in a huge hit, Dave Dickenson hardly a back up QB stepped in and promptly completed five consecutive receptions taking the Lions downfield once again and into the end zone. He then led the Leos down the field again, setting up the tying field goal with six seconds to go a 47 yard boot by O'Mahony.
A 24-24 tie game after sixty, the unusual CFL Overtime project once again got a look see. With a game like this one would have preferred that they treat the play like another quarter, a kick-off, chance to use the punt and such. But instead the three downs till you score plan was in place and looking good for Saskatchewan as they marched the ball down to the eighteen yard line, leaving the ball a little off the line for McCallum but surely an easy chip shot? As the fates will write a chip shot it was not, drifting wide for a single and leaving McCallum flat on the field to ponder the wisdom of keeping his off season job with Saskatchewan Hydro. The Leos took advantage of their stumbled upon fortune, taking the ball down to the Saskatchewan end of the field setting up Duncan O’Mahony’s 40 yard kick to win the game 27-25 and send the Leos packing for Ottawa and the Rider nation simply packing.
The game will be one of those that people talk about for years, the BC Place attendance suddenly 100,000 instead of 55,000 as countless thousands recount the day they think they were there. In Saskatchewan they’ll be talking as well, frustrated words that show the depth of the respect the Riders have in that province. Perhaps the Rider Nation deserved a better fate Sunday, but if any province is used to the concept of fate, chance and luck its Saskatchewan. They’ll be back, both players and fans because in Saskatchewan it’s much more than just a game, it’s a way of life.