Corey Chamblin could win another 10 football championships and never duplicate the one he earned this year with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
The Roughriders successfully shouldered the weight of heavy expectations and overcame adversity in 2013, capping the year with a dominant 45-23 Grey Cup win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Nov. 24. The title was Saskatchewan’s fourth but first on home soil before a rabid Mosaic Stadium gathering of 44,710.
“There will never be a more perfect night in football than that one,” the Riders head coach said. “When we walked out and saw all that green, I’ll tell you, it wasn’t just a home game, it was more a homecoming.
“You’ll never replicate that. Many people are talking about repeating and all that, and I say we’ll never be able to do what we did this year again. It was too special.”
The Riders were rewarded for that accomplishment by sports editors and broadcasters across the country, who voted them The Canadian Press Team of the Year for 2013.
“That’s amazing,” said Riders GM Brendan Taman, “That’s quite an honour.”
The Grey Cup champions earned 28 per cent the vote to edge out Canada’s Davis Cup tennis team (23 per cent). The Vanier Cup-champion Laval Rouge et Or were third with 14 per cent while the Memorial Cup-winning Halifax Mooseheads earned 13 per cent.
“They are Canada’s team and their Grey Cup win in front of their home fans capped a Cinderella season for the Riders,” said Bob Irving, the sports director at CJOB radio in Winnipeg.
“Canada’s Team wins the Grey Cup in its home province,” added Montreal Gazette sports editor Stu Cowan. “Might never happen again. Enough said.”
It’s the second time the Riders have been named team of the year. They also captured the honour in ‘07 after beating Winnipeg 23-19 in the Grey Cup.
Saskatchewan is the second CFL champion in three years to be named the country’s top team following the B.C. Lions in 2011.
Running back Kory Sheets was a one-man show in the Grey Cup with a record 197 yards rushing and two TDs for MVP honours. Slotback Chris Getzlaf, a Regina native, was named top Canadian with three catches for 78 yards.
But it was Taman who built a team capable of winning a championship at home.
In January, he acquired veteran slotback Geroy Simon from B.C., then in free agency signed defensive ends John Chick and Canadian Ricky Foley as well as outspoken defensive back Dwight Anderson. All four were previous Grey Cup champions and proven veterans who were expected to provide leadership to an already solid existing core.
In October, Taman gambled by acquiring rush end Alex Hall from Winnipeg. Hall had a CFL-leading 15 sacks at the time but was slated to become a free agent in February with plans to pursue NFL opportunities.
Although he never showed it, Taman admits the expectations weighed on him.
“It was one of the toughest years that way since I’ve been in the business and I’ve been in it 26 years,” he said. “That was the most pressure I’ve felt but I kept a lot of that within, which probably wasn’t healthy, however externally I never really admitted to it too much.”
For years, Simon was the No. 1 receiver in B.C., but assumed more of a supporting role in Saskatchewan. Although Simon became the CFL’s all-time leading receiver this season, he was fourth on the Riders with 40 catches for 565 yards and three TDs.
But against Hamilton, Simon had three receptions for 67 yards and his first two Grey Cup TDs.
Foley, Chick, Anderson and Hall all helped Saskatchewan’s defence establish itself as the CFL’s stingiest, allowing a league-low 22.1 points per game and finishing tied for the interceptions lead (24). And in the opening half of the Grey Cup, the unit held Hamilton to just three yards rushing and five first downs as the Riders surged to a commanding 31-6 advantage.
Saskatchewan opened the season emphatically, posting an impressive 8-1 record. Anchoring the Riders’ start was Sheets, who ran for 100 or more yards in the club’s first six games and seven of eight, amassing over 1,000 yards at the halfway point of the season.
But after opening September with a 48-25 win over Winnipeg, the Riders dropped four straight. What’s more, Sheets suffered a knee injury in a 31-29 home loss to Toronto on Sept. 14 and then later in the month Anderson and receivers Taj Smith and Eron Riley were arrested and charged with aggravated assault following a bar fight.