The very thought of the Bombers and Riders sharing anything but a heated rivalry is enough to make most prairie football fans sick to their stomachs. With desperate times, however, come desperate measures — and that’s exactly what both Saskatchewan and Winnipeg are experiencing right now.
The Riders are a miserable 6-24 (.200) since Darian Durant was knocked out of the 2014 Banjo Bowl with an elbow injury. They’ve made just one playoff appearance since the 2013 Grey Cup — an unspired 18-10 loss to Edmonton in the 2014 West Division Semi-Final — and are off to an 0-3 start in 2016.
Things are no better in Bomberland. Now four seasons removed from their latest playoff berth, the Bombers are an atrocious 23-53 (.289) since the 2011 Grey Cup game and continue to struggle mightily at Investors Group Field (7-22 all-time).
Given the vast number of hardcore football fans on the prairies, don’t the provinces of Saskatchewan and Manitoba deserve a winner? And, while this might be an unorthodox solution to the problem, wouldn’t pooling resources be the best course of action for both teams?
Okay — I’m kidding.
Obviously two CFL teams cannot simply decide to become one overnight. It is, however, a fun topic for discussion. How would a hybrid of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers look on the field? And would the team be competitive?
I’ve done my best to answer these hypothetical questions below by compiling a sample roster for the Prairie Blue Riders (yes, this hypothetical team would be called the Prairie Blue Riders) for my readers to peruse.
(note: asterisk [*] denotes international)
Quarterback: Darian Durant*, Matt Nichols*, Dominique Davis*
Salary cap constraints dictate that the Blue Riders can only keep one of Darian Durant and Drew Willy and, despite his age, Durant wins the job. Durant has proven he can be an elite CFL quarterback when healthy and, despite a somewhat limited supporting cast with Saskatchewan, is off to a strong start this season in Riderville. Nichols joins the club as a proven CFL back-up who is capable of winning games when called upon. Davis, meanwhile, takes on the third spot with the Blue Riders, having shown the most promise of all developmental pivots on the prairies this season.
Tailback: Andrew Harris, Matt Walter, Kendial Lawrence*
The Blue Riders go all-Canadian at the tailback position, pairing the all-star Harris with the underappreciated Walter. It’s a strong pairing that not only improves the team’s ratio flexibility, but also provides the club with two well-rounded ball carriers who can block and receive out of the backfield. The versatile Lawrence, listed as a tailback, would make an impact all over the field as a ball carrier, receiver, and returner.
Fullback: Christophe Normand, Levi Steinhauer
Normand, a fourth round selection of the 2015 CFL draft, earns the starting role at fullback. A solid blocker with excellent athleticism for his size, Normand has the potential to become a legitimate offensive threat as a receiver out of the backfield. Steinhauer, a converted defensive lineman, gets the back-up spot for his consistency on special teams.
Wide Receiver: Naaman Roosevelt*, Darvin Adams*
With Weston Dressler and Shamawd Chambers falling victim to the salary cap, Roosevelt and Adams take on the starting wide receiver roles with the Blue Riders. Roosevelt has been dynamite since emerging as Saskatchewan’s number-one receiver, while Adams is currently on pace for an excellent 2016. This is a very strong pairing that comes at an even better price.
Slotback: Ryan Smith*, Rob Bagg, Ricky Collins*, Nic Demski
Smith and Bagg have pre-existing chemistry with Durant, making them a formidable duo in the slot. Collins narrowly edges out Winnipeg rookie Jace Davis, who, like Collins, is on pace for a 1,000-yard rookie season. Demski serves as a solid Canadian depth piece who can contribute at both slotback and kick returner.
Tackle: Stanley Bryant*, Thaddeus Coleman*
Patrick Neufeld falls victim to the salary cap, but Coleman — while without a Canadian passport — makes for an adequate replacement at a greatly reduced expense. Bryant, meanwhile, is still one of the better left tackles in the CFL.
Guard: Brendon LaBatte, Sukh Chungh, Josiah St. John
LaBatte, still one of the best interior offensive linemen in the league, is a no-brainer to start at left guard. Chris Best, now 33 and injured, gets beaten out at right guard by blue chip second-year man Sukh Chungh. St. John, the first overall pick of the 2016 CFL draft, serves as the club’s reserve lineman while he develops into a ratio-breaking tackle of the future.
Centre: Matthias Goossen, Dan Clark
The centre spot goes to the 23-year-old Goossen, who, after two years of development, has become a fine starting CFL centre. Clark, also a fine centre in his own right, immediately becomes one of the best sixth offensive lineman in the league.
Defensive Tackle: Euclid Cummings*, Keith Shologan, Corvey Irvin*
Cummings, Shologan, and Irvin fill the interior of the defensive line on a rotational basis. With each player boasting both the size required to play nose tackle and the quickness to play three-technique, these three give opposing offensive lines a ton of headaches.
Defensive End: Jamaal Westerman, Justin Capicciotti, Jonathan Newsome*, Trent Corney, Dylan Ainsworth
Westerman and Capicciotti become the first all-Canadian defensive bookends in the recent memory of the CFL. Newsome serves as a rotational pass rusher, narrowly edging out converted tight end A.C. Leonard. Corney, a blue chip Canadian prospect, also rotates in regularly. Ainsworth sees occasional snaps on defence, but makes the team largely for his strong work on special teams.
Weak-side Linebacker: Khalil Bass*, Samuel Eguavoen*
Saskatchewan rookie Samuel Eguavoen narrowly edges out Saskatchewan teammate Jeff Knox Jr. for the back-up spot behing Bass. Both still on their rookie contracts, Bass and Eguavoen come cheap and bring a boatload of talent to the table.
Middle Linebacker: Greg Jones*, Sam Hurl
Jones serves as the club’s play-making middle linebacker and defensive captain. Hurl, meanwhile, earns rotational looks on defence while excelling on special teams coverage units.
Strong-side Linebacker: Otha Foster*
Foster, a veteran of Chris Jones’ blitz-happy defence, is the perfect choice to start for the Blue Riders and SAM linebacker, one of the most challenging positions in all of Canadian football.
Cornerback: Johnny Adams*, Chris Randle*, Derek Jones
With all due respect to Saskatchewan rookie Justin Cox, Winnipeg’s Johnny Adams and Chris Randle are arguably the best cornerback duo in the CFL. Jones earns the third spot for his Canadian passport and stellar work on special teams.
Halfback: Ed Gainey*, Julian Posey*
In a position at which neither Saskatchewan nor Winnipeg have particularly strong talent, Gainey and Posey earn the starting roles. Gainey brings a veteran presence to the secondary, while Posey has shown flashes in five career starts.
Safety: Maurice Leggett*, Kevin Francis, Garrett Waggoner
Leggett starts for the Blue Riders at the safety spot where he played so well for Winnipeg as a rookie in 2014. Waggoner and Francis, both intriguing Canadian prospects, are kept for future development.
Kicker/Punter: Justin Medlock*
Tyler Crapigna would have received the nod here for his place-kicking, but Medlock’s punting has been excellent this season. Medlock performs all three kicking roles with the Blue Riders.
Long Snapper: Chad Rempel
Rempel is the best long snapper in the CFL, making this decision an easy one.
Returner: Kendial Lawrence*, Nic Demski
Lawrence and Demski take turns bringing back the ball on special teams. Quincy McDuffie might be the best returner on the prairies, but there’s no positional spot open for him on this talented squad.
How do you think the Prairie Blue Riders would fare in the CFL? Let us know in the comment section below.