When you win it all, as much as it is an exhilaration, it is also a relief. It's a significant accomplishment in that, for the rest of your life, you can say that, at least once, you were a part of a championship team and you have the physical reality of the ring to show it. You have a unique sense of accomplishment and an internal peace of mind that a journey was completed.
With the Saskatchewan Roughriders winning the 101st Grey Cup at home last year, there was a 'mission accomplished' mentality that began a year ago in May 2013. But what now? How do you put history behind and concentrate on the present with the same drive and dedication you held previously?
Very few teams repeat and, in some ways, it is a mystery as to why. The talent changes and the coaching changes but why is it so hard to recreate? Mainly because it is not always the teams with the best talent that win as much as it is the team with the players that are at their best working together. Winning teams have exceptional unselfish chemistry, losing teams never achieve that very esoteric feeling. The challenge for the Riders is more about creating a similar feeling as much as it is playing to a high level consistently; a vague challenge hard to define and even harder to recreate.
What is easy to assess is the stability in the organization on many levels but first and foremost, financially. I am old enough to remember the public telethon created about 20 years ago to save the Riders. Now that is a distant memory of painful circumstances that youthful Rider fans would have trouble comprehending. At this point in CFL history, the Saskatchewan Roughriders are a story of extreme business and football success in that, if you make the right decisions, what seems impossible to overcome is more adversity than inevitability.
The positives going into the year are the continuity with Cory Chamblin back as head coach with an extended contract, Brendon Taman back in management with an extended contract and Darian Durant back with a third extended contract. On the opposite side is the absence of RB Kory Sheets and SB Weston Dressler, who were two impact players. Both may be back, or not, but that unknown is uncontrollable so you move on.
Another tough moment was RB Jock Sanders going to Calgary. Though he did have injury issues, the Riders lost a player who will play against them a least three times this season and that is the most difficult personal transitions to overcome.
Last year, Saskatchewan finished second in points scored with an average 28 per game and second in rushing with 128 yards per game. On the other side of the ball, it was even better. They were first in fewest points allowed, second in both second downs converted and most 2-and-outs forced on an opponent. They also finished the season tied with Calgary in takeaway/giveaway at +19.
Weaknesses? Not much other than finishing seventh in red zone offence and fifth in red zone defence. The only other factor or priority improvement is pass defence that allowed 252 yards per game, fifth best in the league. All this considered though, the good outweighs the bad, dramatically.
I don't think the challenges for Rider football are the tangibles such as people, places and things as much as they are the intangibles of perception, opportunity awareness and living in the present moment; allowing the past to be the past and playing with energy for the future. It is a good team that needs to improve and that truth has to be in the forefront in all player's minds. Calgary, BC and Edmonton will be better and 'on edge' to be the best because they were not at their best last year.
Can all the Rider players respect the past and dismiss it as pride of 'that was then, this is now'? Or will the success of yesterday limit the urgency of today? It is not a physical issue, it is mental. Rise to the moment of today, and only today. If they do, what happened last year can happen again.