Stamps fans pulling for Fantuz
By Wes Gilbertson, QMI Agency
|Former Roughrider Andy Fantuz is making the most of his tryout with the Chicago Bears. (Codie Mclachlan/QMI Agency)
If you'd asked one of Saskatchewan's football-crazed fans earlier this week for their take on the game, they might ask you which one.
Friday's showdown between their beloved Roughriders and the Calgary Stampeders at Mosaic Stadium?
Or Saturday's NFL exhibition in the Windy City, where sure-handed receiver Andy Fantuz continues his audition with the Chicago Bears?
Heading into Friday's clash with the Stamps, the Riders were winless in three home dates and had only one victory to show for six tries.
Their watermelon-wearing faithful are so desperate for help, you could probably find thousands of volunteers to drive to Chicago and bring Fantuz back if he doesn't earn a full-time gig with the Bears.
"It's kind of funny, because you hear different people talk about guys that aren't in our locker-room right now, but you don't hear about it a whole lot inside our locker-room. It seems like an outside topic," said Riders slotback Weston Dressler. "We're focused on who we have and what we need to do with the guys in that locker-room to get better."
There were still a lot of people walking around the city in green garb prior to Friday's game at Mosaic Stadium, but the supporters of this community-owned team are starting to panic.
After back-to-back Grey Cup appearances and nine consecutive playoff berths, they've been looking for a quick fix.
The fascination with Fantuz is proof of that.
"If people weren't concerned right now, I think I'd be very surprised. We just haven't played consistently enough or well enough to win a lot of football games," said offensive lineman Gene Makowsky, who has earned his paycheques at Mosaic Stadium for the past 17 seasons.
"Obviously, people are going to be disappointed and I certainly don't blame them. It's up to us to give them something positive to cheer about."
Some fans figure it's a positive that Fantuz is buried on the depth chart in Chicago, although he'll have an opportunity to impress the Bears brass in Saturday's pre-season meeting with the Buffalo Bills.
Fantuz won the CFL's receiving crown last season, racking up 1,380 yards and six touchdowns, and the 27-year-old from Chatham, Ont., is so popular in Saskatchewan that there was a cereal -- Fantuz Flakes -- named after him.
Riders supporters are also crossing their fingers for the return of sackmaster John Chick, who will likely consider his old stomping ground if he doesn't stick with the Indianapolis Colts.
Even if Fantuz and/or Chick is cut loose in the four-down football ranks, they likely wouldn't surface in the CFL until early or even mid-September.
This fanbase wants solutions sooner than that and Stamps quarterback Henry Burris, who spent parts of three seasons with the Riders, insisted earlier this week the help might have already arrived.
"It's a tough city. When you're the focal point of the entertainment package in this province, definitely the primary entertainment in this province, you come under scrutiny," Burris said. "Either you're a scholar or you're scrutinized, and right now, they're going through tough times. But one thing about these fans is these fans know the game. They know what this team has done over the last couple of years and they know this team is capable of getting back there.
"There's been a lot of changes here, but these guys are getting better, as far as the young guys catching up and getting with the times. This team will get better."