The 13th man let the 13th man down

If you were outside or anywhere near an open window during this past Grey Cup, you could no doubt hear the entire province of Saskatchewan break out in joyful celebration as the final seconds ticked down, and Montreal Alouettes’ kicker David Duval missed what would be the game winning kick in the game being played in Calgary.

And, if you waited a few more minutes, you could hear those sounds of celebration and rejoice turn into horrible cries of agony and defeat.

The 97th Grey Cup will go down in history as one of the most shocking Grey Cup finishes in the history of the CFL. After taking a commanding 27-11 lead with just over 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Saskatchewan Roughriders somehow let the Montreal Alouettes claw back, scoring 14 unanswered points and moving the ball to the Riders’ 43-yard line to set up for what could be the game winning field goal with only four seconds left to play. The ball was snapped and the country watched as Duval’s kick sailed wide right. The Riders had won and the sea of green in attendance at McMahon Stadium exploded to celebrate their club’s fourth Grey Cup win in team history, and their second in the past three years.

But hold on! On the play, the Roughriders got penalized for having 13 men on the field. Oh the agony! With the 10-yard penalty, Duval and the Als would get another shot, and when Duval lined up at the 33-yard line for attempt number two, he made no mistakes and kicked the game winning field goal right down the middle. Final score: 28-27.

This loss was especially awesome because of the beautiful irony around that last second penalty. If you’ve seen any Rider home games on TV this past year, you will have no doubt seen how the Rider fans consider themselves to be “the 13th man.” By that, they are trying to say that their rowdiness in the stands is as disruptive for visiting teams as having a 13th player on the field. And throughout the game whenever the Roughriders would make a big play, TSN would turn the cameras to one Rider fan in particular who had a big sign that read “the 13th man is your worst nightmare.” As a Blue Bomber fan who has had to deal with substantial mocking during and after the 55-10 Banjo Bowl massacre when Rider Nation converged on CanadInns Stadium this past September, this unexpected, preventable and completely ironic blow to every watermelon-wearing, Pilsner-drinking, banjo-picking Rider fan in Canada feels like the next best thing to a Bomber Grey Cup win. It doesn’t change the past, but it’s just enough poetic justice to numb the pain and hopefully deflate Rider Nation’s growing ego.

This is too great. Already there are countless “13th man” jokes and one liners out there: “a baker’s dozen is now called a Rider’s dozen; Rider Nation: the 14th man.” I would go on, but we have to save the best material for the Labour Day Classic, and especially the next Banjo Bowl.

Now there has been much speculation as to who exactly was the 13th man who, essentially, handed the game to Montreal, but thanks to Rider Nation’s history of seeking revenge against those who have wronged them, his name may never be made public. If you’re not sure why such measures need to be taken, ask Paul McCallum, who missed an overtime field goal in the 2004 CFL West Final while playing for the Roughriders and subsequently had his property vandalized with eggs and horse manure, and received many death threats. At the time, the Riders’ management claimed it was an isolated event, but you’ve got to think that if it’s ever revealed who the infamous 13th man is, he’s bound to get some horse poop on his front lawn.

To the Alouettes, the 2009 Grey Cup Champions, I salute thee for kicking the “crotch of Canada” right where it hurts them the most — in their Rider pride. Perhaps the 2010 Rider Nation slogan should be, “Let’s keep the 13th man in the stands and off the field, OK?”