They have a six-foot tall gopher as a mascot who was once banned in Calgary for inciting a crowd and now they have a six-year-old African grey macaw in their corner that cheers, “Let’s go Riders.”
No wonder the Saskatchewan Roughriders are going to win the 2013 Grey Cup. It’s in the heavens, the signs are all there.
When you have Gainer the gopher plus CBC Saskatchewan website sensation Kianga the macaw plus tens of thousands of green-clad fans all squawking for the Riders in their home stadium, it’s a force beyond anything the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have ever experienced; a surge of passion sure to be regaled in future years as la Coupe Verte.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have an ace quarterback and the Riders have that, too.
As sound as Saskatchewan’s defence has been this postseason, as unstoppable as running back Kory Sheets has proved to be, no Riders player has meant more to the team, done more for the cause than Darian Durant.
In the West Division semi-final, the veteran starter ran for 97 yards to flummox the visiting B.C. Lions to the point of elimination.
Last weekend in the West final, the Calgary Stampeders did their best to contain Durant and keep him corralled behind his offensive line.
It worked, except for the part where Durant completed 24 of 30 passes for three touchdowns to three different receivers.
Altogether in this November’s playoffs, the South Carolinian who loves playing in the cold weather has thrown for 550 yards, five touchdowns with no interceptions while rushing for 113 yards.
That has made Durant almost as grandiose a figure as Gainer, although the gopher once deemed too uncontrollable in Calgary gets to ride around during games at Mosaic Stadium in his own vehicle.
Durant? No such luck, though that could change after Sunday.
All week, Durant has spoken about the team and what it has gone through the past four years, underlining the importance of winning and why.
He talked about how devastated the Riders were losing the 2009 Cup on the infamous 13th-man call – a too-many-men-on-the-field penalty that allowed the Montreal Alouettes a second try at a game-winning field goal.
He talked about the 2010 rematch against Montreal and how another lost opportunity had fuelled Saskatchewan’s disappointment.
Mostly, though, Durant has spoken of how those experiences have toughened the Roughriders and made them impervious to the pressure of Regina being awarded the 2013 Cup and everyone and their macaw expecting the Riders to be in to win it.
It’s what he expects as well.
“Quarterbacks are measured off of championships,” he told reporters, refusing to mention the 2007 Grey Cup ring he earned as the Riders’ third-string passer. (He never left the sideline in that game.)
“To finally be able to get it would mean the world to me.
“You want to go down in history as one of the greats and in order to do that you have to have a championship on your resume.
“That’s what it’s all about.”
In the CFL, having the right quarterback is what it’s all about. Hamilton has a good one in Henry Burris, a former Roughrider.
But as a Calgary Stampeder, Burris could never beat Saskatchewan when it counted. In four playoff losses, he turned the ball over a wretched 11 times.
Don’t think these Riders are unaware of that tendency.
They’ll be flocking to Burris and his receivers and they’ll be pecking and chirping away. It’ll be a full assault from kickoff to finish. And that’s why the Riders will win Sunday.
This game, on their turf means everything to them and their fans. It’s the payback for losing the 2009 and 2010 Grey Cups by just four points.
It’s confirmation that the team, in its fourth championship game in seven seasons, not only matters to the province but is the John Deere that drives the league.
And with a new ballpark destined to replace Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field, it’s a historical farewell to the house that Ronnie Lancaster and George Reed built.
With all that going against them, the Ticats have little hope of beating the Riders in the heartland of Rider Nation.
The last words go to the macaw: “Let’s go Riders.”