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Can you Bel13ve it!

Published: Tuesday, Dec 21st 2021, 9:12pm

By Adam Ailsby

 

CAN YOU BEL13VE IT?

by Adam Ailsby

 

Can you believe what just happened? We actually had a 2021 CFL season!!!

 

The 2021 CFL season is now in the books for the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the rest of the CFL.  It didn’t end the way Rider Nation had hoped and the sting of yet another playoff loss to the Bombers makes me want to spit on the ground like a resident of Dog River hearing the name Wullerton.

 

In the wake of a disappointing playoff loss for the Riders, the critics, naysayers, toldyousoers, bitchers and moaners all come out of the woodwork to talk about what should have happened and to throw abuse and hate which has become so easy with the advent of social media.  We have players giving end of year press conferences talking about the criticism and abuse that was thrown at them throughout the year by so called fans.  It is sad and unfortunately, endemic to our society nowadays.  However, more importantly, it lacks the basic concept of perspective.

 

Remember just a short time ago when the 2020 season was cancelled?  Each and every Canadian football fan talked about what they wouldn’t do just to have the season back again.  How soon we forget what we didn’t have last year.  With that basic perspective in mind and even though I love a Rider win as much as the next die hard watermelon head, I am going to ignore the scores, ignore the wins or losses, ignore the lack of year end awards and ignore the stats sheets and just say. . . . . . . . thank you!

 

My grateful perspective, like so many Rider faithful, stems from my personal game day experience.  For years now, I have taken my son to each and every home game, just like my father took me and my brother to games when I was a kid.  My son is now 9 years old and going to games with him is something that I cherish.  This 9 year old has gone from a toddler more focused on the gourmet stadium popcorn, to a pretty cool young guy who loves the game, knows every player and has taken up playing football because of it.  While I love Rider games, I love them even more now because it is something we do together.  I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

 

Every time that extended “Bring ‘Em Out” montage comes on the Mosaic Stadium speakers, my son’s eyes instantly widen and he religiously jumps up to stand on his seat, using my shoulder for balance, so he can see over sea of green ready to erupt.  With the youthful excitement that only a child can bring, he signs along, throws his hand up ready to “get it started” and cheers as the players bounce around eager to come out.  He names off player after player as they fly onto that field and an army or ravenous Tiger-Cats couldn’t pry those eyes off the flaming tunnel until his favourite player, always last, jogs out and salutes the crowd.

 

I am not too proud to admit that for these last eight games, I have gotten a bit emotional seeing that youthful excitement.  Maybe the emotion is because, like so many, I was just so crushed to not have had a 2020 season.  We didn’t have the game day event to look forward to and we didn’t have the chance to make those special memories that we will long for when our kids have grown past this wonderous age.

 

In 2020, kids like my son didn’t have that game day connection to these special warriors of the gridiron, these larger than life icons who are actually tangible and accessible in our communities.  As much as we adults might like to chirp and criticize after the fact about what these young men should have done better, to a child, these helmeted heroes are simply herculean individuals who they emulate during countless hours on playgrounds and in backyards throwing long bomb passes, breaking tackles and brushing off the dirt in celebration of so many imaginary game winning touchdowns.

 

The impact these players have on kids and people in our community as a whole is beyond amazing.  The platform that this game gives to these young men is an overlooked element of the CFL that should never be forgotten, yet so often is.  The impact goes far beyond the field.  These selfless players devote countless hours to charities and community outreach.  They happily spend way more time that is needed chatting with fans in the mall or in the middle of their private meal at a restaurant.  They think nothing of giving up personal or family time to attend a little kid football practice or go into a school to speak to kids about bullying or healthy lifestyle choices.  Without a 2020 season, many of these gracious gentlemen simply did not get the opportunity to be in our communities and have the significant impact they normally would.

 

The lack of a 2020 season also took away those valuable lessons about winning, losing, sportsmanship and all those other little things that only live sports can bring.  We missed the little lessons about true leadership from watching the team captain, quietly behind the cameras, go over to celebrate each score with the injured players so as to reminded them that they are still an integral part of the team.  We missed lessons of perseverance from that player who finally gets his shot after spending almost the entire season on the practice roster.  We missed lessons about keeping a stiff upper lip as players go out and dominate after being lambasted all week by critics who don’t know the full picture.  We also missed countless other lessons of frustration, failure, hard work and sacrifice that play out during each game in each stadium throughout the league.

 

But in 2021, it was back!!  I would begrudgingly accept even a Bomber Grey Cup victory if it meant we could have a season again.  No matter how the season ended, a huge THANK YOU is warranted.

 

Thank you to those individuals in each CFL organization that had to make tough decisions to make things work and get a product back on the field. Thank you to each game day volunteer and staff, like the volunteer who has for the past twenty plus years helped people at the top of our section find their seats, who high fives each and every kid and each game, religiously, asks me about how my father is doing.

 

But most of all thank you to each and every one of the players on each and every roster across the CFL. The lost pandemic season was a struggle for the players that many of us can’t comprehend.  Players often worked full time jobs to make a living and support their families and then, when most of us are not even awake yet or are getting home after a long work day, these guys were hitting the gym and training hard to be able to stay in shape and answer that call when (or if) the CFL was ready to go again. Many in the prime of their already short careers had a full season taken away.  It was hard, stressful, thankless and this daunting effort was so often overlooked.  To all the players that made such a monumental personal effort and sacrifice so that I could have another year of game day experiences with my son, I say big thank you for simply giving us a season again.

 

I am not oblivious to the fact that there are a myriad of issues and concerns with all aspects of the CFL.  This season saw low attendances, scoring down, dreaded one year contracts, covid protocols, player isolation, etc., etc., etc.  I will certainly weigh in on some of these matters with my two cents in the coming months.  However, for now, the biggest thing to remember is that we actually got a season this year.  Before we start ripping into every aspect of each team, of every player, of the CFL management, etc. let’s all just for a moment stop and take a needed step back to find some much needed perspective.  Let’s just spent a moment to be grateful we actually had a season and be excited that we will have another one again next year.

 

 

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