In Saskatchewan, Kent Austin is known as a legendary quarterback and coach who led the Roughriders to Grey Cup glory. But when he arrives there for Sunday's big game as the coach of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, he'll be playing the villain.
"I know we're the enemy, but that's OK," said Austin, with a soft chuckle.
Austin knows just how fervent Saskatchewan football fans — known collectively as Rider Nation — really are. He was a star there for two stints of his career: in 1989, Austin, quarterbacked the Riders to the Grey Cup victory over, yes, the Tiger-Cats, and as coach he guided them to the 2007 title. This year, he's hoping to beat the Riders, a tough task on their home field. What does he expect as a coach?
'We've got a lot of great memories there. Not just on the football side, but as a family … going back is outstanding.' - Ticats Coach Kent Austin
"I expect not to be able to, at game time, hear us call plays or even think on the sidelines. It's going to be really loud," Austin told reporters at the Tiger-Cats office.
"They will come out en masse, not just the game but the whole week. So we really have to limit the distractions for the players."
The Ticats played at Regina's Mosaic Stadium once this year, on July 21, losing badly 37-0.
"We were a different team back then," said Austin.
Whether Rider Nation played a role in that lop-sided loss in debatable, but 37,372 fans came out to see the game — the most the Tiger-Cars saw all season. Even last weekend's East Final against the rival Argos only brought out 35,418 fans.
Austin's message to his team: "focus on what's under your control."
It's a message he'll repeat constantly in the coming days. Austin said he's aiming for the team to have its game plan for Sunday ready today, ahead of a "disjointed week."
The team is set to fly to Regina tomorrow and "once you get out there it gets a little busier," Austin said. The week leading up to the game will feature a series of practices, award galas and probably some heckling from Rider faithful.
Logistics 'Gong show'
At the Tiger-Cats office today there was a flurry of activity as team staff prepared for the trip.
"It's a gong show, but a happy gong show," said Ticats communications director Scott McNaughton.
In offices closed to the media's view, Ticats employees scrambled to book flights on a commercial airline for 60 players (the team is bringing its practice roster as well as the players who will suit up for the big game) and 25 staff members.
Also being flown — by a cargo plane — are two truckloads of equipment, including large amounts of thermal shirts and heavy jackets to cope with Regina's cold. If not for the Tiger-Cats sweatsuits, the staff carrying them out could have been confused with band roadies.
The CFL booked hotel space for the team in advance, so unlike many fans, they've got accommodations lined up.
Homecoming for Austin
Austin's entire family is heading up to Saskatchewan for the Grey Cup festivities.
"It's a community that's meant a lot to us," said Austin, who is originally from Natick, Massachusetts.
"We've got a lot of great memories there. Not just on the football side, but as a family … going back is outstanding."
Austin's Tiger-Cats (11-8) take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders (15-4) at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday in the 101st Grey Cup.