Last winter, Andy Fantuz signed as a free agent with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, mainly because he wanted to be closer to his hometown of Chatham, Ont.
On Saturday, the veteran slotback returns to Regina’s Mosaic Stadium and the city that was his home away from home for six stellar CFL seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders
Players and coaches on both sides were downplaying his return Friday, but it has been top of mind with fans and media here all week.
For his part, Fantuz is prepared for mixed responses from Riders fans. He knows one thing for sure, however.
“Whatever happens at the start of the game will be different than what happens once the game has started,” he said.
Asked what it felt like to back on Riders turf, Fantuz used phrases like “awesome” and “fun weekend” and then addressed the sentimentality of the occasion.
“I have missed it out here,” he said, “but I’ve moved on. I’m enjoying things in Hamilton.”
The focus now is squarely on helping the 2-2 Tiger-Cats defeat the 3-1 Roughriders and avenge Hamilton’s 43-16 loss to Saskatchewan in the season-opener at Ivor Wynn Stadium a month ago.
“The only time we talk about [the homecoming] is when we get asked questions about it,” Fantuz said. “This is a big game. We’re both fighting for first place in our divisions.”
If any of his Tiger-Cats teammates can appreciate Fantuz’s situation it is quarterback Henry Burris, who is still getting a hard time from the fans in Saskatchewan for leaving the Roughriders to sign with the Calgary Stampeders in 2005.
“We’ve been yelling his name all week [in practice] trying to get him ready,” Burris said with his customary smile. “I’m glad he’s with me, because now it’s a shared experience.”
Saskatchewan quarterback Darian Durant was a close friend of Fantuz in Regina, and he too predicts there will be two different responses before and after the opening kickoff.
“At first they’ll cheer him on a little bit,” Durant said, “but once the game starts they’ll be all over him.”
In Fantuz’s absence, Durant’s primary target has become slotback Weston Dressler, who scored four majors in the victory over the Tiger-Cats.
“Honestly, I think that’s typical of Weston Dressler,” Durant said. “He’s definitely capable of doing that week to week.”
Dressler, who is known for circus catches, made a spectacular touchdown reception against the Stampeders in Calgary last week and also showed he is only human by dropping a routine one. The Roughriders suffered a fourth-quarter collapse and lost the game 41-38 in overtime.
Disappointing though it was, the Roughriders are not dwelling on that loss.
“We have a 24-hour rule around here,” Durant said. “You have to forget what happened last week and move on. If they’d beaten us flat out, it might have been different.”
The Tiger-Cats have likewise put behind them the embarrassing loss to Saskatchewan early this year.
“We don’t even recognize the team they played in week one,” said Burris.
Hamilton dropped its first two games of the 2012 campaign, but has rebounded to even its record with back-to-back victories. Head coach George Cortez credits this to an offence that has been averaging 36 points per game and a defence that is consistently disrupting the rhythm of opposing quarterbacks.
“Hopefully, we won’t turn the ball over,” said Cortez. “They’re not necessarily trying to do things differently,” said Durant. “They’re just trying to do things better.”