The Saskatchewan Roughriders' 2010 season passed away Sunday night at Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium before a crowd of 63,317. Investigations are still ongoing, but the preliminary cause of death has been given as Montreal's suffocating defence. That defence effectively negated Saskatchewan's great receiving corps and led to the demise of their season. It was a narrow thing, and the largely pro-Saskatchewan crowd (some of which is pictured above post-game) did yeoman service attempting to revive their beloved Riders, but the season breathed its last on a critical final-minute interception of Darian Durant by Billy Parker. The Alouettes solidified their claim to a CFL empire with their second-straight Grey Cup, while it was yet another crushing defeat for Saskatchewan.
Despite its tragic ending, the Riders' season deserves plenty of praise for what it was able to accomplish, though. It may have been a roller-coaster ride, but those are often thrilling. This was no exception (even if it did end with the equivalent of hot coffee to the face).
At the start of the season, the Riders looked poised to repeat as West Division champions, but that aura diminished over time and few were still believing by the time they dropped four straight games near the end of the year. They ran into controversies over everything from MRIs to pink to punting. They employed a somewhat ragtag cast that comprised a fantastic variety of characters, including a bartender-turned-punter-turned-media-star, a junior football player turned sharp-dressed man and a linebacker from an obscure Division III college in Texas who saved the season. Somehow, it all gelled into a cohesive team, and one that was only three points away from winning the Grey Cup and bringing down the imperial Alouettes.
There were plenty of spectacular moments for the Riders this year, including a Canada Day double-overtime win over Montreal and another double-overtime victory over B.C. in the divisional semi-finals. The high point of Saskatchewan's season has to be their 20-16 road victory over Calgary in -30 Celsius temperatures in the West Final, though. Few gave them much of a chance, as no road team had won the West Final since they did it back in 2007, but some of us thought that this 10-8 Saskatchewan team might just have a few of the special pieces needed to knock off a terrific 13-5 Stampeders squad. They did, with targeting data allowing them to take advantage of the Stampeders' secondary's fatal flaw, and they set up a 2009 Grey Cup rematch in the process. This episode of their story may not have had a happy ending, but sometimes tragedies work just as well as comedies.
The Riders' 2010 season will be survived by general manager Brendan Taman and head coach Ken Miller (even if his exact role isn't yet determined). There may be other changes made, including offensive coordinator Doug Berry (who's been mentioned as a potential head-coaching candidate, either in Edmonton or in Saskatchewan if Miller moves out of that role), but it looks like much of the Saskatchewan corps will remain intact. This is a team with a lot of exciting young talent, but getting back to the Grey Cup isn't going to be easy in a loaded West Division that features the powerful Stampeders and the improving Lions and Eskimos. Still, Riders fans may have to deal with the five stages of grief at the moment, and they may be living on the loneliest mile, but there's still plenty of hope for the future in Regina. It's worth remembering that the second act is usually the darkest, but that doesn't make it less important. Some would say 2010 was the Riders' last hope to defeat the Alouettes' empire, but others would counter, "No. There is another."