REGINA, Saskatchewan (AP) -- They're the overwhelming favorite as Grey Cup hosts and are carrying the weight of an entire province's expectations.
Yet the biggest burden is off the Saskatchewan Roughriders, according to head coach Corey Chamblin. He says getting to Sunday's CFL championship against Hamilton was the real challenge.
"The biggest pressure for our team was making sure no one else sat in our locker-room," Chamblin said. "It's about working all offseason, all year to protect your house, and that was the biggest thing and the biggest pressure we had.
"We're in it now, and as I tell the guys, if we're good enough to be in it we're good enough to win it. It's time for it to be decided now on the football field, not in the media, not with trash talking."
Riders general manager Brendan Taman made it clear early this offseason he was serious about fielding a Grey Cup contender with Regina hosting the big game. He acquired receiver Geroy Simon from the B.C. Lions before adding defensive linemen Ricky Foley and John Chick and defensive back Dwight Anderson in free agency.
Not only are Simon, Foley, Chick and Anderson all CFL veterans, but each has a Grey Cup ring, Chick earning his with the Riders in '07 before heading to the NFL. However, adding experienced performers to an already solid core only served to jack up expectations in Saskatchewan, especially after both B.C. and Toronto had captured Grey Cup titles as the host city the past two years.
The Roughriders, who will face the Tiger-Cats at Moasic Stadium on Sunday, lived up to that billing, winning their first five regular-season games and eight of nine before sustaining three straight losses. After rebounding with three victories, the Riders finished second in the West Division behind Calgary after dropping a 29-25 decision to the Stampeders.
Saskatchewan (11-7) lost its final two-regular season games before beating B.C. 29-25 in the West semifinal, then emphatically dispatching Calgary 35-13 in last weekend's division final.
"The thing about pressure is how you deal with it," Chamblin said. "By having some of the veterans we added and just having the core of our football team, we took that pressure and applied it to ourselves.
"We're extreme competitors in our room and we use all the outside pressure to help make sure we're where we want to be."
To claim Saskatchewan's fourth Grey Cup title, Chamblin will have to beat someone instrumental in leading the franchise to two championships. Hamilton coach Kent Austin guided the Riders to the '89 crown as the club's starting quarterback, then in '07 as its head coach.
The Riders clearly haven't forgotten: A large banner of Austin hangs outside Mosaic Stadium and a parking lot still bears his name.
"I actually come in the other way," Chamblin said when asked about seeing Austin's banner every day he comes to work. "There's great history here in Saskatchewan and Kent's been part of that, and the one thing I never want to do is remove those ancient landmarks.
"That's part of the foundation . . . so for me to see that is an honor and I try to build on all the things those guys did in the past."
Austin will forever be associated with Saskatchewan's Grey Cup success, but he has also jilted the team's loyal fans.
In '94 while in a contract dispute with the club, Austin demanded to be traded and was sent to B.C., helping the Lions win the Grey Cup. In '07 after leading the Riders to their CFL title, he abruptly left Regina to become the offensive coordinator at Ole Miss, his alma mater.
Austin said he will forever cherish his memories of playing and coaching in Regina.
"I'm very honored to be recognized," he said. "This organization has meant a lot to me and my family and we're proud to have had a history here both with the team and the community.
"It's hard to get here and every one of the Grey Cups are special. But that being said, it's best to face Saskatchewan. If I was going to play a team, it would be Saskatchewan. If we're not going to win it, which we hope very much that we do, it will be good to see Saskatchewan in there."
Austin led Hamilton to a 10-8 record and second in the East in his first season as the club's vice president of football operations, coach and GM. The Ticats are in the Grey Cup for the first time since '99.
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