Vanstone: Live football finally begins as May ends

The Saskatchewan Roughriders played a pre-season home game on Tuesday for the first time in 1,020 days.

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Tuesday’s Canadian Football League preseason game at Mosaic Stadium featured more B-listers than an episode of Dancing With The Stars.

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The Saskatchewan Roughriders numeric lineup started at 8 carried by quarterback Mason Fine. The home team’s star-studded crowd included receivers Shaq Evans (No. 1) and Duke Williams (5), cornerback Nick Marshall (3), defensive end AC Leonard (6) and quarterback Cody Fajardo (7).

(Leonard’s absence reminds us of a memorable preseason power outage that resulted in a rather alarming AC and DC shortage at Taylor Field.)

For their part, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers visitors left luminaries such as quarterback Zach Collaros, middle linebacker Adam Bighill and defensive end Willie Jefferson at home. The line-up of visitors included only players expected to start for the defending Gray Cup champions.

Mind you, exhibition play must have been a treat for fans of Whop Philyor and Tanner Cadwallader everywhere.

Also, the fact that the game was finally played was worth a round of applause.

Originally scheduled for May 23, Bombers versus Roughriders was pushed back eight days due to an industrial dispute between the league and the CFL Players’ Association.

Hence the always appetizing game on Tuesday night, kicking off at 6:30 p.m., seemingly designed to wreak havoc on any plans: (a) to have dinner on time; and (b) suckle a meal without raising cholesterol or blood sugar to stratospheric levels.

And what could have been more appealing on a windy Tuesday night than a $9 beer?

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It might have been a meaningless game in terms of league leadership, but the regular-season prizes were still applicable. Burp.

But in terms of pre-season games, Tuesday’s competition was unusually intriguing.

Normalcy…finally!

After COVID-19 caused one season to be canceled (2020) and another (2021), the fine art of driving to the stadium has been exciting, even if consuming three liters of petrol can lead to bankruptcy.

At this point last year, the Roughriders were more than a month from the start of training camp, which was the only bridge to the team’s 14-game regular season.

And it’s been a dismal league-wide season of coughing and gagging offenses. A commonly cited reason for the lack of points and shine was the lack of a preseason.

Not that it’s a great barometer, mind you.

Three years ago, the Roughriders lost their two preseason games and still ended up putting down a 13-5 record and finishing first in the West Division.

For the record, the 2019 Roughriders opened exhibition play by breaking out for a rouge while holding host Calgary Stampeders to 37 points.

In the pre-season final, Saskatchewan lost 35-29 to Winnipeg at Mosaic Stadium, where the often concussed Collaros made his final start as a green-clad member of the home team.

After throwing two touchdown passes, Collaros was replaced behind center on June 6, 2019 by Fajardo (albeit in short-yard situations), Isaac Harker and Ty Gangi.

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Trivia Blast: Gangi was 8-for-16 for 95 yards. That earned him eight more completions, 16 more tries and 95 more yards than Fajardo compiled in a preseason home game for the Roughriders.

Fajardo’s stats on this spring evening in 2019 came down to three carries, two yards, a touchdown and an untold number of post-game corn dogs.

And who was the Roughriders’ pitcher that night? University of Saskatchewan Huskies’ Sean Stenger, who kicked a 19-yard field goal. (Stenger stepped in for Brett Lauther, who also sat out Tuesday.)

Who registered the Roughriders’ lone sack in that long-forgotten loss to Winnipeg? Lavar Edwards.

Such sweet memories…

Another 1,090 days would elapse before the Roughriders hosted the next home game of the pre-season.

All the time with no setup fees in May, June or July. How did we even manage to breathe?

Sure, Tuesday’s events will almost certainly be erased from the memory banks of most mortals when the actual games begin less than a week from now.

But there was something rejuvenating about strolling the concourse of Mosaic Stadium before the game and watching the fans pour into the facility while wearing jerseys with the surnames and numbers of Fajardo, Evans, Marshall and, No. 39 , Charleston Hughes – although these fan-favorites were also viewers on the last night in May.

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The sports world is constantly changing, and so are the times. Supplement your regular sports coverage by subscribing to Regina Leader posts 306 sports fix Newsletter. Each week, Sports Editor Rob Vanstone will provide additional commentary on the Roughriders, Pats and other teams/sports of interest, along with a behind-the-scenes look. Click here to login.

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