CFLs return to where it all began

September 16, 1994|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore CFLs coach Don Matthews led the exodus out of Regina, Saskatchewan, last winter, taking with him most of the Roughriders' coaching staff and two of the team's best defenders -- nose tackle Jearld Baylis and halfback Charles Anthony.

By the time spring arrived in the western Canadian prairie town, the Roughriders had also lost quarterback Kent Austin, receiver Jeff Fairholm, cornerback Barry Wilburn and lineman Craig Hendrickson, all key players.

Matthews and several other defectors are going back Sunday, when the CFLs play their first day game of the season against the Roughriders.

"We're going to get booed, no doubt about it," said Jim Popp, the CFLs' personnel director who spent two years in Saskatchewan and signed several of the players on the Roughriders' roster.

"The way the fans see it, Don got out of there, and they want to know why.

"It'll be an emotional game for their fans. They'll play it up as Coach Matthews coming back to town. But it's not about us. For me and the coaches, it's just another game."

Matthews has remained detached this week on the subject of Saskatchewan revisited. This trip will be business only.

"I'm not personally involved in this game more than any other," he said.

"I'm going back with Baltimore, trying to get two points [in the standings]. I'm approaching it the same way I always do."

Matthews took over a 1-6 team in Regina in the middle of the 1991 season. The Roughriders went 5-6 the rest of the way, improved to 9-9 in 1992 and 11-7 a year ago.

At the very least, these ex-Roughriders will know what to expect from the town's two natural resources -- local pride and uncertain weather.

"We're walking into the Green Bay Packers of the CFL," said offensive coordinator Steve Buratto, who coached four years in Regina, only one under Matthews.

"It's a rich tradition of success. There's tremendous support in the province of Saskatchewan. The people take a lot of pride in the fact they support a team that shouldn't exist. The market area is only 200,000 [in population]."

Popp said: "It's a very unique place. It's a small city out in the middle of nowhere. They're super people, but it's like being 10 years behind the time. They're people who like to keep things simple and don't like changes."

Baylis, once a fixture in the Regina community, isn't expecting a rough reception even though he's going back as the enemy.

"For most people who have gone back there, it was a pleasant experience," Baylis said. "I expect it to be the same way."

It is a small town, Anthony said, where football players stand out.

"People are aware of who you are," he said. "You can be in a grocery store and somebody will ask, 'What did you do on this play?' Sometimes when you lose, you don't like to hear it."

Then there's the wind element.

"The three games we lost last year, we lost because we lost the coin toss," Buratto said. "The other team had the wind in the fourth quarter.

"It can be blowing 5 mph to 50 mph in a game. It has a tremendous effect. If you can control the ball and score a touchdown into the wind, you'll usually win the game."

That may partly explain Saskatchewan's 5-0 record at home despite losing the heart of its team. Overall, the Roughriders are 6-4, as are the CFLs.

"There is a special place in my heart for the people there," Baylis said. "We had such a great time. When I hit the field, it's the same as any other game. As far as the fans, it's pretty special."

NOTES: John Congemi has resumed his position as No. 2 quarterback behind Tracy Ham, ahead of Shawn Jones. . . . Matthews said guard Keith Ballard, coming back from an ankle injury, will replace Diego London on the active roster. He also said he expects injured wide-out Walter Wilson (hip pointer) to play as a backup behind Mike Alexander, moving Reggie Perry to the practice squad. . . . The CFLs have added rush end Chris Thompson of Bowie State to the practice squad.

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