Roughriders losing out on first place could be blessing in disguise

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Saskatchewan Roughriders won’t finish first in the West Division and that’s been accepted by the green and white.

Since 1987, the first-place team in the West — including Calgary finishing first in the North Division in 1995 — has lost the West Final 19 out of 33 times. That’s near a 58 percent losing percentage for whoever hosts the West Final, this year that will be the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Riders head coach Craig Dickenson agrees it could be a positive omen for his 2021 team in Saskie.

“There’s something to be said about that. Certainly, I think the team that is playing the best late has a little bit of an advantage and having a bye week, you don’t get a chance to play,” Dickenson said.

“The benefits of the bye are you can stay healthy and stay rested but you do sometimes come out a little rusty so hopefully we can get into that second-place spot. That’s our goal and hopefully we’re playing well at the end of the year that we can go into the playoffs hot.”

Hosting the West Final has been a curse and the Stamps have had the worst luck with it. Calgary has blown seven of them at home in the past 30 years, alone. The same curse gobbled up the Riders last season in 2019 when the crossbar got in the way of a potential comeback drive against Winnipeg.

The CFL’s all-time winningest coach, Wally Buono, once said you want to finish first until the day after the Western Semi-Final — the team who wins the semi-final has the momentum. The team who finishes first and doesn’t play that semi-final weekend has to re-establish momentum.

It doesn’t sound like Dickenson has a preference one way or the other.

“I’ve been on both sides of it. Last season we got beat by Winnipeg, obviously, and we had the bye. But then I’ve also been on the other side where when I was in Edmonton, we had the bye and we won,” Dickenson said.

“But that gives some legs to the theory that you should be playing at the end of the year and not sitting so we’ll take it and use it as a positive motivator for us.”

If the Riders do pull out a win in Montreal Saturday night and Edmonton and B.C. both lose their games this weekend, it will clinch a playoff berth for the green and white but the battle for second place and home-field advantage in the West Semi-Final will rage on.

For the Roughriders and their fans, that might not be such a bad thing.

Brendan McGuire has covered the CFL since 2006 in radio and print. Based in Regina, he has a front-row view of Rider Nation.