Playoffs and paranoia go hand in hand for the Roughriders
As the Riders get set for the playoffs, the effort to keep info to a minimum has begun
CFL playoff time is here and for the first time since 2014, Saskatchewan is one of the six teams in contention for the Grey Cup.
The Roughriders will face the Redblacks in Ottawa this Sunday in the east semi-final.
It's also a time when paranoia spikes through the roof — in this case, the Riders indoor practice field roof, otherwise known as the Regina soccer facility.
On Wednesday, fans found themselves locked out from the Riders' first playoff practice in three years.
Media was allowed to watch, provided they didn't report on what they saw.
"I fully understand we all have a job to do but I ask that you respect the spirit of competition and not report changes to our roster, alignment or plays," texted Ryan Pollock, the Riders' director of media relations.
During my three plus decades of covering this team, the Riders didn't always make the playoffs — in fact, more not than often.
Life was a little more relaxed around the team for most of the '80s when they never made the playoffs.
During one practice, head coach Jack Gotta strolled over to me to complain about his boss and his parking spot on game days.
I guess that's why the team didn't make the post-season for eleven years.
Remember the Riders' music video Eleven (Years) That's Enough featuring Glen Suitor, Harry Skipper and company?
That's why it has always been fascinating to me how the Roughriders act so differently when there's a playoff game to prepare for.
I didn't really notice it myself until Jim Daley's Roughriders in 1997.
That was the year the Riders would face Doug Flutie and the Argonauts in the Grey Cup game.
During one playoff practice that November of '97, a Riders volunteer equipment assistant named Shorty, an elderly gentleman and the world's biggest Rider fan, came over and said to me, "Coach would like you to stop shooting practice."
I was dumbfounded. That was crazy talk back then.
Those were the days television cameras from local media outlets were allowed on the field to shoot practice. On the field!
Camera operators would be out there side by side with the players as they ran their plays.
That was allowed to continue until Danny Barrett's turn as head coach.
It was one practice day in particular after a near-injury to his quarterback.
A TV camera was anchored 'five yards' behind the line of scrimmage and Nealon Greene was doing 'seven yard' drops. (It was CTV by the way.)
Back in the day, a reporter could walk through the doors at Taylor Field and go directly to the head coach's office unannounced.
That policy ended abruptly on day one of the Don Matthews era in Saskatchewan. The day I almost got Tony Playter fired from his job in media relations.
Back then, media could get weekly injury reports from Ivan Gutfriend, right down to the specific muscle or bone.
Today, I have no clue who the Riders' athletic therapist is.
Does he ever come outside?
Chris Jones' office may as well be located on the sub-levels of the Pentagon because a reporter will never get close to it.
My personal paranoia favourite was Bob Wylie, the Riders offensive line coach in 2009.
I just happened to be doing a story on football paranoia and Wylie was a good guy to talk to because of his vast experience in the NFL and how it would be great to compare the paranoia levels between leagues.
Well, the day after my story aired on CBC, Wylie came up to me at practice and said he really liked it and asked if he could get a copy for his mother.
Little did I know, his mother was Ken Miller, the Riders' Head Coach.
In the piece, I included a shot of a double reverse the Riders executed during practice.
Wylie's 'mom' loved the story but it resulted in another media policy change, courtesy Glenn Reid.
From that point on, the only thing media is allowed to get video of during practice is stretch and individual drills. Exciting stuff.
Every coach deals with playoff pressure in his own way.
In an attempt to keep leaked information to a minimum, Chris Jones, who has always reminded me of Don Matthews, has closed practice to the public this week.
For the last couple years, in fact (I think it was Jones' idea), it's been a thing to have the media do pushups with the team.
The players are pretty insistent on it, and sometimes in an intimidating way.
They think it's a way of demonstrating 'We're all in this together.'
I have never done the pushups thing, and never will.
Mostly because I'm old and out of shape but I also know once it gets serious or controversial with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, that warm and fuzzy togetherness feeling vanishes very quickly.
Serious times have arrived in Riderville.