There’s probably a very good reason why Greg Beatty hasn’t posted anything about the Riders’ wholesale bed-messing season lid-lifter on Sunday. (CBC Saskatchewan) It’s one thing to lose on Opening Day – but to an Edmonton Eskimos team that’s overhauled half the team and almost the entire coaching staff, a team so barren of talent that its starting quarterback, Ricky Ray, was openly suggested as trade bait … yeesh. Beatty’s probably spending his days gouging out his eyeballs with a spoon, in a desperate effort to make sure he never sees anything like that again, but like the Shannon Elizabeth/Styrofoam showman sexual assault scene I YouTubed when looking for one of my favourite Aussie alt-pop bands, what’s seen can’t be unseen.
I couldn’t imagine watching this one from the stands … actually I could. When the score was 14-7 Edmonton halfway through the first quarter, there were a few things that were readily apparent. First of all, Marcus Crandell, the Esks’ new offensive co-ordinator, had designed an offensive package that allowed Ricky Ray to throw more than 10 yards – which he didn’t do in the past couple of years.
Secondly, Richie Hall was still developing a defense that goes against the instinct of every other defensive system since Don Matthews designed the Alberta Crude defense. The idea of defense is to put on pressure. You play to mix up the offense, make someone – the quarterback, a running back, a receiver, an o-lineman – screw up, and then you exploit that screw-up. Instead, Hall’s trademark defense doesn’t apply enough pressure to make Tara Reid appear topless in the next American Pie direct-to-video release. And even though the Eskimos sported a rebuilt offensive line, Ricky Ray had all day to throw. (Did the Esks really have two rookie offensive linemen starting on Sunday? You’d never know.)
Thirdly, Hall’s defense played straight into the Eskimos’ hands – in more ways than one. If the Eskimos score (they scored three touchdowns and two field goals in first five possessions), then the Riders are under a lot of pressure to play catch-up, and Darian Durant will try to win the game all by himself. And he can’t. Which is fine. Neither could Ron Lancaster.
And that’s what is making me thing we’re seeing this all before. I haven’t seen a Roughrider team come out this flat and disorganized since the latter part of the Roy Shivers era. And it reminded me of even worse times. In the mid- to late-1990s, you either had too much money or no friends if you actually paid money to buy Rider tickets – the club traded corporate sponsorship funds for tickets to paper the park and there were always vouchers for tickets floating around Saskatchewan. I would use the tickets the Riders gave the newspapers I was working for to go to the games, and by the third quarter, I would tune my Walkman (remember those?) off CKRM’s game-day broadcast and instead play something of a mixtape I had – Steve Kilbey’s Pretty Ugly, Pretty Sad, Warren Zevon’s Splendid Isolation (“I’m putting tinfoil up on the windows/Lying down in the dark to dream/I don’t wanna see their faces/I don’t wanna hear their screams”) or, when I knew everything was all over, my answer to Dandy Don’s ’Turn Out The Lights (The Party’s Over),’ The Tragically Hip’s Emergency (‘When everything seems either funny or lousy, funny or lousy/That’s when it usually ends/An emergency without end …’)
The first game of the Riders’ 2011 season reminded me of every home game in 1998.
Rider fans will be telling everybody – and themselves – about how the next game, against Montreal at Taylor Field on Saturday that This Game Will Tell Us What Kind Of Saskatchewan Roughriders We Really Have. We’ll hear about how Greg Marshall has told his players to ratchet up the intensity, how the game plan will see a lot more pressure and intensity … and an older generation of Roughrider followers will we telling themselves ‘where have we heard all this before?’
Because it doesn’t matter. Whether they lose by one point or 51, the Riders could be 0-2 if they don’t find a way to win — and if they couldn’t find a way to beat the CFL’s doormats, then what are they going to do against the champions? Two points they leave on the table now are two points that would probably spell the difference between first and second place … or a home playoff date and a playoff road trip … or making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. It doesn’t take much for me to think that the Riders are back on the ‘just be happy we’re in the playoffs …. Even if we slip in through the cross-over, anything can happen’ attitude, and Sunday’s match set off a few alarm bells. Dunno what Greg will do, but I think I’ll keep my old yellow sports Walkman handy … just in case I get a hankering for some Tragically Hip.