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.
Montreal made some adjustments at the half and finished with quite respectable offensive stats on the whole (Anthony Calvillo completed 29 of 42 passes for 336 yards without an interception, Avon Cobourne put up 67 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, and S.J. Green and Jamel Richardson both had 100-plus receiving yards on the day), but you could still tell they were struggling with the crowd. They only put up 21 points on the day, well below their season average of 28.9 points per game and even further below the 48 points they hung on Toronto last week. (Pictured, right: some of the fans who made their presence felt all day and even stuck around post-game to watch the awarding of the Grey Cup).
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.
Some of that credit goes to the Riders' defence, and deservingly so, but much of it is also due to a crowd that provided one of the most intimidating atmospheres I've ever seen. The crowd of 63,317—a record for Edmonton and the fifth-largest in CFL history—must have been at least 90 per cent pro-Saskatchewan. I didn't notice any watermelon bras, but there were plenty of great costumes, including one from a galaxy far, far away (pictured, right). Costumed or not, though, most the Riders' fans made their opinions felt vociferously and made life tough for Montreal's offence all day.
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).
That's fair, and I understand the logic involved in trying to produce a broadcast that appeals to fans of both teams (and it's the right logic), but it didn't necessarily give viewers at home an accurate sense of how heavily biased this crowd was.There were some very passionate Alouettes' fans who made the trek, and they made their voices heard as well, but they were outnumbered almost as heavily as the Spartans at Thermopylae, as the photograph at right of the post-game crowd shows.
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.
Head coach Marc Trestman had high praise for Richardson after the game. "The thing I remember about Jamel in this game is every catch he made was contested," Trestman said. It was certainly an epic performance from Richardson, and it becomes even better when you consider that he was dealing with not only the Riders' defence, but intense noise from the crowd.
"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."