They left the field serenaded by their adoring fans. Some players waved and pointed to friends. A television reporter was quick to talk to Geroy Simon, the veteran receiver who had scored two touchdowns in an amazingly one-sided showing by the home team.
And the best part for the Saskatchewan Roughriders? All that was at halftime. The rest of their Sunday evening was spent staying ahead of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, getting sized for their 2013 Grey Cup rings and enjoying one of the most historic moments in CFL history – a 45-23 Riders Cup triumph inside Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field.
In 103 years of Roughrider history, nothing has ever been greener than what transpired on a chilly, wind-swept Prairie evening in a province where football matters as much as talk of the weather and what those political loonies in Ottawa are doing now. As soon as Regina was awarded the 2013 championship game, the expectations were set and set undeniably high: the Riders had to be in it and win it.
And not only did that happen, it happened with authority. With the home side scoring 24 points in the second quarter. With the Riders sticking it to their former quarterback Henry Burris of Hamilton and their former quarterback turned head coach Kent Austin. With actor Tom Hanks in the crowd – as a friend of Hamilton-born comedian Martin Short – learning what the Canadian version of the Green Mile is all about. Domination. Celebration. A confirmation that the little team in the little city does more than just participate in the CFL; it is now its driving force.
The flagship franchise.
Consider this: the Riders have now been in four Grey Cups since 2007.
They have won twice and there's no reason to think they can't add to their success since all their key components are in their athletic prime, quarterback Darian Durant, receivers Weston Dressler and Chris Getzlaf and running back Kory Sheets, who eclipsed a 57-year-old rushing record with 197 yards. Every one of those players had a huge hand in Saskatchewan's victory.
It began, fittingly enough, with a symbolic pre-game entrance when the entire team ran onto the field instead of just the offensive starters. Rider fans roared whenever the Ticats touched the football. They booed Burris. And when Durant fumbled the ball the second time in as many possessions, it flew directly to Sheets, who plucked it out of mid-air and raced up-field for an unlikely 42-yard gain. Call it the Rider Bounce.
Five plays later, Durant completed a 15-yard pass to an open Geroy Simon for the game's first touchdown and a 7-3 lead. Simon was one of the veteran players the Riders added this season to help them get over their defeats in the 2009 and 2010 Grey Cups, a pair of losses that shattered the hearts of many a Saskatchewan fan and honed the hype for this November's finale. Simon did his part and then some. The two touchdowns were his first in four Grey Cup appearances.
The Riders then added another touchdown and another to build such a comfortable lead that Hamilton, despite a more enthusiastic second half, couldn't do enough to battle back against the tide. The fourth quarter was a countdown to the final gun and the Grey Cup being brought to a stage so everyone could revel in the moment.
It wasn't that long ago – in the late 1970s and into the 1980s – when the Riders were clinging to their existence. Team president and CEO Jim Hopson talked about the days when the team was exchanging tickets for wheat while the other teams in the CFL complained about having to support such a sickly relative.
Things began to change when the Riders won the 1989 Grey Cup on a last-play field goal against Hamilton. The team went another eight years before winning again but by then Saskatchewan football was on the upswing. It was drawing fans to all its games across the country. It was selling more jerseys and merchandise than its peers. Now, if you ask any CFL follower to pick the one team that best represents the three-down game, the answer is easy and inarguable: the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
What went down Sunday was history. It was absolute and it was everything the home team had hoped it would be.