The Newest Great Rivalry - by Bob Hughes

Real Estate Agent with Exit Realty Fusion

Boxing had Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier. Hockey had Wayne Gretzky vs Mario Lemieux. The Second World War had the Nazis against the rest of the world. Regina has Fiacco against all those don’t want their hair to look like strands of melted tire. Albert Street and Saskatchewan Drive have drivers in a hurry against the red light. Southern Saskatchewan has Exit Realty Fusion vs all the rest. Great rivalries, every one of them, and the good guys always won. The ones with the most brains, most drive, most skills, most endurance and, above all the biggest dreams, and the tenacity to chase after them are the ones who take it all.

    And now you’ve got the Saskatchewan Roughriders vs the Calgary Stampeders. It’s become the biggest rivalry in the Canadian Football League. There are those who rub their chins and figure that the Labour Day Classic between Winnipeg and Saskatchewan is the biggest rivalry. That’s not a rivalry, that’s an event.

    But, Saskatchewan vs Calgary? That’s a rivalry. It became one, for the ages, this season. Events are like weddings. Everybody shows up, parties, and goes home happy. Rivalries are wars. Rivalries are fuelled by a genuine dislike for each other. And after playing each four times this season, once in the pre-season and three times in league games, the Stampeders and the Roughriders genuinely dislike each other.

    It figures, After all, every one of those games has been a war. And, the Riders have yet to lose. Henry Burris has thrown everything he has at the Riders, and the Riders have thrown it right back at him. The rivalry boiled over when Saskatchewan went into Calgary and escaped with an electrifying 44-44 overtime tie that really was more of a win for Saskatchewan and a loss for Calgary. It got downright nasty when the Riders-out-gunned the Stampeders a few weeks later in a first-place showdown in Taylor Field. It was Saskatchewan’s first first-place finish since 1976, and half an hour after the game you could still hear the cheering of the crowd from backyards as far away as the Crescents area of Regina. It seemed almost a bigger win, in some ways, than Saskatchewan’s Grey Cup victories in 1989 and 2007. Because, you suppose, this win came at home. The fans, most of whom weren’t around 1976, weren’t sure how to act so they acted up.

    “We’ll be back here in two weeks,” promised Henry Burris. Burris had once played for Saskatchewan, leaving the Riders to go play for Calgary. Both teams have won Grey Cups since that happened, but the fans never forgave Burris. Heck, it wasn’t Burris’ fault he left. It was stubborn stance taken by general manager Roy Shivers that forced Burris to go to Calgary. But, the fans in Saskatchewan take more delight than getting on Burris than they do any other player, or coach, in the Canadian Football League.

    Rivalries have to have a lot of ingredients before they become special. Off the top, the games have to be close and they have to be last-minute deals before they’re decided. The teams have to have exceptional talent across the board. The coaches have to figure out ways to make them play as a team. John Hufnagel and Ken Miller have done that, and it hasn’t been easy for either one of those head coaches.

    Burris had developed into one of the most complete quarterbacks in the league. It’s around his athletic ability that the Stampeders’ offence feeds off of. Darian Durant has more than proven that Ken Miller was right that Durant could become the next great Rider quarterback. He is like Ron Lancaster in many ways, the most obvious being that he seems to be at his best when the pressure is at its highest level of intensity.

    But beyond all of that is these two teams just plain don’t like each other. Their games are played at a high level with little give and take on either side. The Riders haven’t really out-played the Stampeders this season as much as they have out-gutted and out-lasted them.

    They will meet in the Western final for the first time since 1971 when Calgary swept the best-of-three series. But, now it’s sudden-death, a one-game shot that will in all reality tell who really won the rivalry in 2009.

    As the doctor said when the fourth Dionne baby was born, “Don’t go away, this thing ain’t over with yet.”


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