The clank heard around Saskatchewan will probably echo for another year.
Similar to the 13th-man nightmare from the 2009 Grey Cup, Saskatchewan Roughriders fans will be haunted by the sound of Cody Fajardo’s pass attempt banging off the upright and falling to the turf and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers celebrating a playoff victory at Mosaic Stadium.
Dreams of competing in the 2019 Grey Cup were spoiled.
But there was always next year when the championship game would be played in Saskatchewan. Much of the team’s roster would return in 2020 and the Riders a strong candidate to win it all.
And then a global pandemic struck.
The odds are diminishing by the hour that football fans in Canada will see a 2020 CFL season.
That reality will sting the Roughriders and its fanbase the most. For starters, the Grey Cup game slated for Regina in late November has been cancelled. Instead, Regina will host the championship game in 2022.
League commissioner Randy Ambrosie sheepishly admitted last week during his meeting with federal politicians at the House of Commons that the most likely scenario is a cancelled season and that the league future is “very much in jeopardy”.
During a virtual town hall meeting on Wednesday, the commissioner said the earliest the 2020 season could start is September. Should a shortened season actually take place, the Grey Cup qualifier with the superior regular-season record would receive hosting privileges.
From a business perspective, a lost season will cripple the CFL financially. For anyone who roots for the Riders, no games in a football-crazed province is equally as crushing, especially this year.
The summer portion of the season already has been cancelled. The loss of those games hurts Regina’s economy, especially tourism, hotels and restaurants.
On the field, the Riders boast established talent at every position. Fajardo led all CFL quarterbacks in passing yards in 2019; running back William Powell tied for the most rushing touchdowns and was second in the league in rushing yards; Charleston Hughes led the league in sacks; linebacker Solomon Elimimian ranked third in tackles; Nick Marshall’s five interceptions was third overall.
The addition of Jason Maas as offensive coordinator bolsters what is already a solid coaching staff, led by head coach Craig Dickenson. He led the Riders to a 13-5 record last season, the second-best mark in the league.
But that was a year ago when we were all a little younger. For pro athletes, age is their greatest nemesis. It’s the one opponent that remains undefeated. No player has ever conquered its inevitable and guaranteed process.
In the likely case the 2020 CFL season is lost, players returning in 2021 would be another year older.
Hughes and Elimimian, arguably the two most important pieces on defence, will be 37 and 35, respectively, next season. Can they maintain their dominance, or will age catch up to them?
LaBatte, the anchor of the offensive line, turns 35 next season.
There’s also the question of whether a lost season will be counted on a player’s contract. If so, then some players may become free agents and sign elsewhere. Keep in mind, Fajardo’s current contract would expire at the end of the 2021 season.
The Riders were scheduled to open the CFL regular season at home on June 19 against the Montreal Alouettes. That won’t happen. The Labour Day Classic will likely be scrapped as well.
Chin up, Saskatchewan. There’s still a sliver of hope.
Martin Charlton Communications Senior Content Creator Craig Slater has covered the Canadian Football League for more than 10 years. In addition to working for Martin Charlton, he covers the Saskatchewan Roughriders for The Canadian Press.