And now the moment you've all been waiting for.
After a gruelling 20-week regular season from which the Saskatchewan Roughriders emerged at 10-8, the 2014 Canadian Football League Playoffs are now at hand.
The bar has been raised so high in Saskatchewan for the past decade that, to me, the regular season has become somewhat tedious. As far back as June we found ourselves daydreaming about what the playoffs would bring, and in what way the Roughriders would have to defend their 2013 championship.
Now we know, and it's infinitely thrilling that the time is now!
Saskatchewan's 24-17 home win over Edmonton this past frigid Saturday night accomplished a lot of things: it snapped a five game losing skid, showed the team they can win without Darian Durant, assured an above .500 record and guaranteed the Riders would stay in the West Division for the postseason rather than crossover into the East. It sets up a meeting between the Riders and Eskimos Sunday at Commonwealth Stadium in the Western Semifinal (3:30 pm Sask time, TSN, 620 CKRM).
"Whether it was East or West, the team was prepared to go either but it's always nice to stay in the West," said a content Rider coach Corey Chamblin after the game. "For us we've played Edmonton the most the past few weeks and there are some known strengths and weaknesses in the opponent. In terms of prep, it's good to know the opponent you're playing. There are some base things to study from this game and they put their best foot forward to win this game."
Indeed it was impressive how hard Edmonton tried to win Saturday night, given the fact they really had nothing to play for. It's true they had the ability to affect who they'd play in the WSF, but that seemed to be the last thing on their mind.
Meanwhile the Rider coaches were tearing their hair out doing advance scouting last week for a possibility of four opponents in the first round of the playoffs: Edmonton, Hamilton, Montreal or Toronto.
Now they know it's the Eskimos and getting past them won't be an easy task. Edmonton's 12-6 record represents the biggest single-season turnaround in franchise history after going 4-14 last year. They are also #1 on offense and #2 on defense going into the playoffs. How can you be better than that?
The thing you'll be hearing about the most this week is the quarterbacks. Top pivots Mike Reilly and Darian Durant were held out of the final regular season game by the Eskimos and Riders respectively, and we're told both were due to injury. Let the gamesmanship begin.
"Our quarterback was really hurt," Chamblin smiled. "Regarding Mike Reilly, I think that's just a ruse. It doesn't matter who their quarterback will be. We'll have to be ready to play."
Of course Darian Durant hasn't played since September 7 due to an elbow injury and he's slowly been worked into practice the past couple of weeks. In Durant's absence the past three weeks, 41-year old veteran Kerry Joseph has filled in.
"Kerry did a good job (Saturday night)," Chamblin continued. "When he broke the run, he looked like Darian. He's starting to look like a playoff quarterback. Whether it's #4 or #5 going in the playoffs, or both, we'll be ready."
The question is; which one will it be? Wouldn't the Eskimos like to know. I expect this will be strung out all week, long enough for the Rider Nation to snap up tickets in advance for Sunday's playoff game at Commonwealth Stadium.
In case you hadn't heard, your attendance is requested.
"A lot of things have gone against us but I think the tide is turning for us," Chamblin said optimistically. "I think it helps with prep playing Edmonton again but I'm excited to get there and we'll have our fans with us."
(For daily Rider news follow Rod on Twitter at @sportscage)