The good, the bad, and the dumb of the Riders’ home-opening loss to the Bombers

Photo courtesy: Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Saskatchewan Roughriders 2023 home opener promised to be a true measuring stick of where the green and white stack up against the CFL’s best. On this night, their measurables came up a bit short.

It wasn’t all bad, as the Riders’ offence put up nearly 30 points against what is supposed to still be the league’s most suffocating defence. Plus they hung with the three-time reigning West Division champion Blue Bombers for three quarters before the ‘Peg finally pulled away.

While Mason Fine wasn’t needed as an emergency quarterback on this occasion, I’ll be stepping in for game-time decision Joel Gasson. Here’s the good, the bad, and the dumb of the Riders’ first loss of the season.

The Good

While much of the talk during the week leading up to the home opener centred around whether or not starting quarterback Trevor Harris would play, it was the performance of rookie Canadian receiver Samuel Emilus that stole the show.

The second-year man out of Louisiana Tech had his coming out party on Friday after a quiet rookie year in 2022. He tied a franchise record with three touchdown catches and gave the fanbase its first in-person look at his newly introduced touchdown dance.

Although the choreography wasn’t all that impressive — Duke Williams’ trend-setting griddy dance had a lot more giddy-up to it — the on-field performance sparkled.

The touchdown dancing should get better with time and now that apparent franchise saviour Trevor Harris has a preferred target, the fan base will be patient while their new prime-time receiver finds some dancing lessons in Regina this summer.

Some, like Canadian Football Hall of Fame writer Darrell Davis, have suggested that the Montreal native needed a year of playing Canadian football again to start showing his true potential on the CFL gridiron. This performance would bear that out.

It’s an encouraging sign for a receiving corps that will be without Kian Schaffer-Baker, Brayden Lenius and Derel Walker for a while, as all three are on the six-game injured list.

The Bad

It’s easy to criticize any team that gives up the big play and the Roughriders’ 10 missed tackles — yes, we counted 10 — on Janarion Grant’s 90-yard punt return touchdown in the third quarter was a definite back-breaker.

The bad part of this play, believe it or not, wasn’t the countless whiffs from nearly the entire Rider special teams unit but rather the ticky-tack illegal block call against Blue Bomber Les Maruo.

Appropriately, Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea challenged the call, and a command centre review overturned the bogus penalty, prompting a belated celebration on the Blue Bombers’ bench.

The problem is that the partying was stopped and the hometown crowd was relieved a penalty flag had kept their spirits alive, only to go through a lengthy delay to find out the big play was, in fact, what it looked like to the 20-some thousand in the stands and hundreds of thousands more watching on TSN.

This destroyed the immediacy of what should have been an electric moment, the kind on which the CFL was built. Instead, it created indecision, frustration and a poor celebration.

The CFL, CFLPA and its competition committee need to strike a better balance between protecting their players and encouraging big plays that turn these same athletes into stars. This play was a perfect example of that.

The Dumb

As many Saskatchewan readers are aware, CJME reporter Britton Gray knows his football.

Unfortunately, his web of expertise does not extend to that of musical talents.

While Canadian rock and roll icon Kim Mitchell wowed the Regina crowd at halftime with Go For Soda and Rock N’ Roll Duty, Gray drew the ire of the Mosaic Stadium press box with the quip, “This sounds like some band I would hear at The Pump back in the day.”

Though The Pump — a once popular Regina night club — hosted many great performers in its day, most would readily acknowledge being nowhere near the same calibre of a three-time Juno award winner like Kim Mitchell.

Gray’s comments were met with outrage from the assembled press gallery, many of whom ranged from Baby Boomer status to that of Generation X.

Not everything the Roughriders try with musical acts or promotions goes right, but this one clearly did. The ability of at least some millennials, like Britton, to evaluate musical talent is still a work in progress.

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