Just because the Saskatchewan Roughriders came up short in Sunday's Grey Cup, largely because of Montreal's ferocious defence, it doesn't mean they failed as a team, and it certainly doesn't mean the crowd wasn't as much of a factor as expected. In fact, the crowd was even more pro-Saskatchewan than I expected, and perhaps even greener than it was in Calgary last year.
The Riders' fans (some of which are pictured above heading into the stadium before the game) made an incredible amount of noise that shook Commonwealth Stadium at times, and they made life very tough for Montreal on offence for much of the day, as did Saskatchewan's defence. The Alouettes had less than 200 yards of offence at halftime, and were perhaps lucky to head into the half tied at 11.
The stats didn't tell the whole story, as the Alouettes frequently were able to move the chains in the middle of the field. They were eventually foiled by Saskatchewan's bend-but-don't-break defence (including Jerrell Freeman, whose eight tackles, one sack and several pass knockdowns likely would have earned him an even larger reward than last week's if the Riders had won), though.
Of course, you wouldn't have necessarily noticed that from the TSN broadcast. From what I noticed on the press box monitor and from others' observations in our live blog, it seemed to be making sure to show Alouettes' fans as frequently as Saskatchewan fans (and perhaps even more).
Richardson earned the game's Most Valuable Player tag, and he was a very deserving choice. He made eight catches for 109 yards without a touchdown, but many of them were highlight-reel calibre, including an absolutely incredible play where he ripped the ball away from Saskatchewan's Omarr Morgan, hung on for the catch and set up a Montreal touchdown.
"It was deafening out there," Richardson said after the game. "We went silent-count all game."
Richardson went on to take a bit of a shot at the league's decision to give the Riders' fans (more of which are pictured at right) the Commissioner's Award earlier this week, but it appeared to be mixed with some genuine admiration.
"What can you say about their fan base?" he said. "They got an award."
Roughriders' head coach Ken Miller said it became apparent immediately after the national anthem just how pro-Saskatchewan the crowd was.
"I looked around and saw a sea of green," he said.
Miller said the fans' support motivated the team and helped them put in a great effort that was almost good enough to win the Grey Cup.
"Our fans are the greatest," he said. "Our players really respond to our fans. We just didn't respond quite enough today."