Only in Saskatchewan…


After spending a week sequestered inside the world of racquetball, specifically at the Canadian championships in a Vancouver suburb, it’s painfully obvious the rest of the country doesn’t absorb itself in the CFL in the same fashion as Saskatchewan.

When the Toronto Argonauts held a media conference to trumpet their sale to Larry Tanenbaum and Bell Canada, a huge announcement that could actually stabilize the league’s least-stable and biggest market, only one soul stood under a TV to glean any information from the TSN telecast.

The Montreal Alouettes signing Michael Sam, the first openly gay, active, professional football player? Big shoulder shrug in B.C.

Nobody seems interested in the new rule changes and debating whether the punt-coverage rules or the restricted-contact-on-passing-plays rules will have the bigger impact.

Neal Hughes retired. Outside of Saskatchewan that didn’t cause a ripple. Hughes spent 11 seasons with his home-town Saskatchewan Roughriders, who signed the University of Regina product as an undrafted free agent.

Hughes was one of those CFLers who didn’t get much recognition throughout the rest of the CFL. A longshot to even make the team, he was a tailback who – despite being undersized – switched to fullback because his career started before Jon Cornish’s, when Canadians weren’t supposed to play tailback. He excelled on special teams, being a role player who was sometimes called upon to spell the starting running backs. He caught passes, ran the football on occasion, and learned the nuances of blocking linebackers by spending extra sessions with his teammates on Saskatchewan’s offensive line.

Hughes was among a handful of Roughriders who were on the 2007 and 2013 Grey Cup teams, along with Darian Durant, Chris Best, John Chick and Mike McCullough. When he reinjured a foot last season, it looked like Hughes’ career was over. The official retirement came nine months later, after Hughes of course spent the offseason immersed in community work, bolstering the image of the Roughriders throughout Regina and Saskatchewan.

It’s not surprising to know that virtually nobody in B.C. is talking about Hughes. The TVs are tuned nightly to NHL playoff games and there is rarely any conversation about the B.C. Lions and the other eight CFL clubs opening their training camps this coming weekend.

In Saskatchewan, as the days dwindle before the Roughriders open their training camp in Saskatoon, the fan base is in a frenzy debating the strength of Durant’s recuperating throwing arm, the identity of the team’s seventh Canadian starter, the strength of the new recruits signed by general manager Brendan Taman and the schemes being devised by head coach Corey Chamblin and his two new co-ordinators, Jacques Chapdelaine (offence) and Greg Quick (defence).

There will be educated discussions about the Argonauts, Alouettes and rule changes. A day will be set aside to honour Hughes. Training camp will open and in Saskatchewan, as usual, it will be all-Roughriders, all the time.


Darrell Davis has reported on the Riders for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame media wing in 2006.