The most devastating loss I experienced when I followed the Riders was in the deciding game of the best of three West final against the Calgary Stampeders in 1970. The 1976 loss to the Ottawa Roughriders in the Grey Cup on a last-minute touchdown pass from Tom Clements to Tony Gabriel was certainly a tough one to swallow too. But I was a little older then, and the game was a true classic between two deserving teams.
In 1970, though, the Riders were by far the class of the league. Led by Ron Lancaster and George Reed, the team went 14-2, and finished a full ten points ahead of the Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders who tied for second at 9-7. In the semi-final, Calgary squeaked by host Edmonton 16-9, setting up a fourth consecutive match-up between the Stamps and Riders in the West Final (which was then a best two out of three affair).
In game one on a Saturday afternoon at Taylor Field, Calgary upended the Riders 28-11. In the second game Wednesday night at frigid McMahon Stadium, the Riders prevailed 11-3 in a hard-fought contest where the turning point was a long fumble return for a touchdown by Rider all-star defensive tackle Ed McQuarters.
The rubber match was played the following Sunday afternoon in Regina in what was essentially a blizzard. Typically, I would have sat in the Rider Rookie Section in the north end zone. But my dad gave me his ticket so I sat with my mom and my aunt in the West side stands.
Lancaster had hurt his ribs in game two so the Riders were forced to start untested back-up Gary Lane (not to be confused with the Devine-era politician of the same name). Conditions, as I noted, were brutal. Neither team was able to generate much on offence. Lancaster entered the game in the first half. But within a matter of a few plays he’d returned to sidelines after one of the Calgary lineman took a blatant roughing the passer penalty against him.
At one point in the third quarter, while working into a fierce north wind, the Riders had the ball first and goal at the Calgary one. Lane botched the hand-off on one of the downs, I think, and on another the Riders pretty clearly punched the ball across but were denied a touchdown by a bullshit call from the refs. Ultimately, they turned the ball over on downs and came away without any points.
Calgary might have had a punt return for a touchdown, or at least a long return that set up a score, and on pretty much the last play of the game Stampeder field goal kicker Larry Robinson (this was back in the day, remember, when the CFL didn’t employ speciality placekickers; they all started elsewhere and kicked in the old straight-on style) hit an improbable 35 yarder into the teeth of the wind and the Stamps won 15-14.
So Rider nation, I felt your pain after last November’s heartbreak in Cowtown.
The team the Stamps advanced to play in the 1970 Grey Cup, coincidently enough, was the Montreal Alouettes. The score in the game? 20-13 for Montreal.
No, just kidding. That’d be entering X-Files territory. The score was actually 23-10 for Montreal. And yeah, I know if you take the three from the 23 and tack it onto the 10 you get 13. But you don’t want to be too paranoid about it, do you?
Anyway, kick-off at Mosaic Stadium is at 5 p.m. and the game is on TSN.
Musicwise, Regina roots country band Black Drink Crier are at O’Hanlon’s Pub tonight with Children of Moses.