Sitting in the first row on the 55 yard line right behind the Roughriders’ bench in crumbling and dilapidated McMahon Stadium during the Roughriders-Stampeders game yesterday gives one an untypical perspective. Specifically, I was able to watch the team up close on the sidelines. 

My first observation is that offensive line coach Stephen Sorrells needs to cut out the caffeine. I don’t know what upset him so much after the first offensive series but even some Calgary fans were expressing concerns about his mental health after that tantrum. However, his disposition, while likely to trigger some kind of coronary/aneurism health event in the near future, was a striking contrast to the laidback attitude of much of the rest of the team.

Most striking was how loose the team remained even when everything was collapsing around them.

To be clear, I loved that none of the Roughriders players showed any sign of panic.  This is a confident team.  When they came out for the second half down 17-6, their sideline demeanor showed the kind of clear-eyed confidence that suggested they knew they would come back and win this thing.  However, this team needs to find that happy medium between the psychotic disconnection from reality shown by an enraged Stephen Sorrells and the sleepy demeanor of a bunch of guys sitting around the living room watching NFL RedZone on Sunday afternoon.

The Roughriders have a spectacular batch of young and cocky receivers with enormous potential that is just starting to show.  I doubt the Roughriders will be able to keep them all, and in a few years they will be disbursed throughout the league, burning the Roughriders to a crisp.  But on the sidelines yesterday they never showed the kind of intensity that reflected the seriousness of the deficit they were facing.    They were dancing around to the music, assuring each other everything was going to be okay, and generally acting like young men do on the way to the bar after some pre-gaming.

The Roughriders need to go out and find that grizzled seen-everything but kinda over-the-hill veteran wide receiver like a Geroy Simon or a Manny Arceneaux.  They don’t need these kinds of players for their playing ability; the Roughriders are loaded with talent at receiver.  The Roughriders need these guys to provide a certain psychological stability to the youngsters.  The closest thing they have right now is Kyran Moore, who seems like a pretty grounded guy from what I saw on the sideline.  However, he is young and he remains in his prime.  (They should use Mr. Moore even more than they already do.  Here’s how you remember: “More Moore”.  See?  Easy.)  Shaq Evans is also still in the prime of his career so he would not fit the bill.  Having Mr. Evans around and playing would, of course, be a nice thing.  Not having him around might have been the difference yesterday.

After the game, Cody Fajardo was complaining that his receivers aren’t able to win those 50/50 battles that other receivers seem to be in the habit of doing in both the CFL and NFL.  He was talking specifically about the final interception he threw to the one-yard line that effectively ended the game.  It’s not a bad point, although Mr. Fajardo made his share of mistakes (see below) and I expect he knows that.  In fact, he’s probably racked with guilt today (or, even worse, wracked with guilt) about even bringing it up.  Nevertheless, it would be nice to be able to say “You got Mossed!” after a Roughriders’ game.  Maybe next week, since Mr. Fajardo essentially called his receivers out in this regard.

Anyway, let’s go right to the heart of the matter (seven paragraphs into this meandering post).  The Roughriders lost the game for one general reason and one specific reason.  Generally, they were not as focused and determined as the Calgary Stampeders.  The Stampeders were motivated by the fact that a loss would effectively end their season.  The Roughriders appeared to be on the edge of overconfident and they could not match the urgency of the Stampeders until that last quarter.  The specific reason they lost the game:  Cody Fajardo overthrew Kyran Moore early in the first quarter on a third-and-three.  Instead of the game being tied 7-7, the game was 14-0 before the Stampeders’ tailgaters even got into the stadium.

The last two minutes of the game, however, turned the atmosphere of crumbling and decrepit McMahon Stadium electric. Obviously (obviously) the wrong team won, but otherwise that was one hell of an finish to a game that literally could have gone either way right up to the last 30-odd seconds. Another bipartisan crowd (like BC Place one week ago) made the game feel more like a Grey Cup than a regular season tilt. Say what you will about how annoying it is to be invaded by Rider Nation when the Roughriders come to town, it always makes for a great football environment. In any event, last night’s game was another example of how the CFL is the most underappreciated professional sports league on the planet. (And our friends down East, the Montreal Alouettes and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, didn’t do such a bad job of pressing this point home, either.)

Apropos of nothing, I was sitting beside a rather rotund member of Rider Nation who, during the game, was texting someone to ask the question:  can you get covid twice in one month?  Uhhh… why are you asking?  This was the same guy who was screaming “Natasha!” at Sara Orlesky every time she wandered past.  I presume he was thinking of former TSN sportscaster and current blonde bombshell comeon!.net spokesperson Natasha Staniszewski.  

As for Ms. Orlesky, I don’t know what she was supposed to be doing but she looked like someone who had accidentally dropped her keys somewhere along the Roughriders’ bench but was too shy to ask if anyone had seen them.

Finally, I would just like to say that Roughriders’ defensive coordinator Jason Shivers is tiny.  Delicate.  He looks like a little marionette.  He is relentlessly positive, which is great, but it’s probably because he’s afraid he will either blow away or someone will cut his strings.

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