Best Season/Worst Season: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Best Season/Worst Season: Saskatchewan Roughriders
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Best Season/Worst Season: Saskatchewan Roughriders

Welcome to the latest in an occasional series looking at the best and worst seasons for each of the nine CFL teams. We started with the BC Lions. Then followed that up with the Ottawa RedBlacksMontreal AlouettesCalgary StampedersHamilton Tiger-Cats & Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

But first some ground rules. Some of the teams have been around long enough to post completely winless seasons. For example, the Toronto Argonauts went 0-6 in 1898. While football was played as far back as 1869 in Hamilton. The Roughriders history can be traced back to an 0-4 season as the Regina Rugby Club in 1910 even.

But is that really a fair comparison? I would say not, as it was a different era with much different teams, games and leagues. So we will be looking at the ‘modern’ era only. Which will also allow us to compare the best and worst seasons of all of the teams over the same time frame.

You might think the modern era should begin in the post CFL era from 1958 to present day. However, whilst the CFL may have had responsibility for the Grey Cup since 1958, we should note that Wikipedia suggests that “1954 is reckoned as the start of the modern era of Canadian football, in which the Grey Cup has been exclusively contested by professional teams”.

So based on that we will take 1954 as our starting point for our best/worst season comparisons.

Best season – 2007

This is probably going to cause some arguments. But what is more fun than a sports debate anyway? Let me lay out the reasoning for picking 2007 before you get straight into the comments to tell me why I’m wrong!

The best regular season definitely came in 1970. That year a 14-2 outfit headed up the West Division. To this day those 14 wins remain a franchise record for most wins in a single season. That year the Roughriders averaged a 23-13 win across the sixteen games they played. Not to mention finishing five wins ahead of their rivals in the Division. They finished the season on a seven game winning streak too. Yet in the playoffs they were beaten 2-1 over a three game series by a 9-7 Calgary team.

That is a spectacular regular season effort. But any season you walk away champion should trump a great regular season surely. And the Roughriders have only walked away with the Grey Cup on four occasions. There is always something to be said for your first Grey Cup win. Or the fact that in 2013 they won their most recent title in front of avid fans on their home field.

What 2007 offers however is a trifecta of solid reasons to be selected as their best season. They won one of their four Grey Cups, doing so with the best regular season record of any of their championship teams (12-6). While also doing it against their greatest rivals, (surely an added to joy to any title win), the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Finally, the game featured the two CFL teams with the longest standing Grey Cup droughts – and Saskatchewan celebrated the Riders breaking theirs.

How did the Roughriders and Blue Bombers meet in a Grey Cup?

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are very much a Western team and belong in the CFL West Division. But they have spent a considerable amount of time in the East Division too. Between 1987 and 2013 they spent 21 seasons in the East Division. Plus one season in the North Divisions as part of the US expansion era.

In 1987 they moved to the East Division to replace Montreal who had folded just prior to the regular season.

They played a total of eight consecutive seasons in the East Division. Before moving to the newly created North Division in 1995 during the short-lived US Expansion era. As the US expansion was wound down, and the Baltimore Stallions were made into the core of a reinstated Montreal Alouettes team, Winnipeg returned to the West Division in 1996.

It was short lived though. As the  Ottawa Rough Riders ceased operations. Once again Winnipeg were re-aligned to the East. It wasn’t until 2014, and the arrival of the Ottawa REDBLACKS that the Blue Bombers returned ‘home’ to the West Division.

Which ultimately meant that the two great Western rivals faced off in a championship contest in 2007.

The season itself

The Roughriders came into the 2007 season having made the playoffs each one of the previous five seasons. However, they were hardly setting the world on fire, going 46-44 over that span. In fact they had perfected being at .500 going 9-9 each of the previous three seasons.

This season however would be different. Guided by 2007 MOP quarterback Kerry Joseph they had their first winning season since 2003 & first 12+ win season since 1970.

They started with two consecutive wins and two consecutive defeats. From that 2-2 start though they went on a five game winning streak to get to 7-2. Could they be dominant from here? Three consecutive losses suggested not. But then they went on another run. This time winning five in a row again to get to 12-5. A dropped final game didn’t really matter and at 12-6 they headed into the playoffs once more.

After a close fought 26-24 win over Calgary in the West Semi the travelled to BC to take on the 14-3-1 BC Lions. Saskatchewan upset them 26-17 before putting the icing on the cake with a 23-19 Grey Cup win over their great rivals Winnipeg to take their third ever title.

James Johnson, who became the first player to intercept three passes in a Grey Cup game was named MVP. Joseph was the CFL MOP, Head Coach Kent Austin Coach of the Year. They also had two CFL All-Stars – Joseph and Centre Jeremy O’Day. As well as 8 West All-Stars overall.

Worst Season – 1959

1-15. Never looks good. And there it sits in the Roughriders history. In fact following a 7-7-2 season in 1958, Saskatchewan descended into a 2 year run from 1959-60 that saw them deliver a 3-27-2 record. Tough times indeed for fans of the green Riders.

Could anything make it worse? How about their prairie rivals winning the Grey Cup? Because that happend too. When you are down you are really down!

After starting the season 0-10, the Riders got their first win in October with a 15-14 squeaker over the BC Lions. That was in BC too, so the fans at home never saw a win over this season.

Over the season the Roughriders scored 212 points and gave up 567. An average loss of 13-35 per game.

They did win another game but…

Saskatchewan ‘rolled’ from 1-10 after their win over BC to 1-14 and a final game match up with arch nemesis Winnipeg. Finishing with a win there would have been some form of salve for the fans. So they must really have celebrated their unexpected 37-30 win. Except they didn’t get the win – officially. As we said above, when you are down you are really down.

Saskatchewan’s win was immediately forfeited under CFL rules; the Roughriders had no healthy quarterback and coach, Frank Trupicka played. But he was ineligible to be added to the roster at such a late date in the season.

For the last two games of the season in fact, due to injuries, management decided to play Tripucka anyway, and forfeit in advance. On the field they were 1-1 with the Coach playing pivot. Off it they continued to lose.

A rare bright spot for this season was Centre Neil Habig, who was voted the Roughriders sole West Division All-Star. Habig had played his college football at Purdue, starting the final two years and being named the Boilemaker’s MVP in his senior year in 1957. He played seven years in the CFL, all with Saskatchewan from 1958 to 1964. 

Over that seven year span Habig was a West All-Star six times. He only missed out in his first season. Habig would also me named a CFL All-Star at Centre in 1962, the first year CFL All-Stars were awarded. Besides playing offence, Habig was a decent player on defence too where he played linebacker. 

Banner Image: Their best ever season? A Saskatchewan Roughriders 2007 Grey Cup ring. Image from Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

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