The Saskatchewan Roughriders have been around since 1910, and the fervour found in the fan base has never been in doubt. When it came to winning, though, that was another story.
It would take the team 56 years before they captured the Grey Cup; they’ve appeared 18 times in the final game since 1923, and won it only three times. The last successful trip was in 2007; neither Corey Chamblin nor Odell Willis have that history with the Green Riders, but they hope to recapture that championship spirit.
Chamblin has a ring, having been the defensive backs coach with the 2008 Calgary Stampeders when they won the 96th Grey Cup; the closest Willis has come so far is in 2011, when the “Mayor of Swaggerville” and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers lost to the B.C. Lions.
Now they’re in Saskatchewan, and Chamblin has them going in the right direction. Winnipeg sent Willis packing in the off-season, so the defensive end who isn’t shy about airing his opinions has to be burning inside to show that the Bombers made a mistake by getting rid of him.
Apparently there are some lessons the 27-year-old native of Meridian, Mississippi has to learn. Willis was arrested in April in a suburb of Atlanta for alleged impaired driving in a case which remains before the courts in DeKalb County. On the field, Willis has only one sack in two regular-season games, but the Riders are off to a 2-0 start and Willis is happy with how things are working out in his new surroundings.
Still, with higher expectations comes more pressure. Tempers rose with the temperature at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Thursday as the Riders prepared to host the Lions on Saturday. Offensive tackle Chris Patrick and defensive tackle Tearrius George had to be pulled apart by teammates during a scrimmage, according to a report published on the Regina Leader-Post’s website. After that incident, two other unnamed players had an exchange of words after a passing play.
Before things got out of hand, Chamblin interceded and called a team meeting on the field. He told them that while he wanted them to play to their highest level, he also reminded them that they’re all on the same side. It’s that kind of calm — and a winning record with a total of 60 points scored to this point — which has earned Chamblin high praise from Rider fans. Should Willis display the form he showed in 2011 when he was credited with 13 quarterback sacks, it should give Rider Nation even more hope of putting last season’s 5-13 debacle behind them.