REGINA - First, there was 30-plus degree temperatures.
Then came the rain.
Then large, marble-sized hail bounced off the field.
The game was then delayed for 15 minutes because of lightning.
But then, suddenly, Mosaic Stadium was bathed in sun and a double rainbow appeared over the downtown skyline.
“Maybe there’s a pot of green and gold at the end of that rainbow,” laughed Eskimos GM Eric Tillman.
Leapin’ leprechauns, damned if there wasn’t!
Despite taking the field with 14 newcomers in starting positions — including the kicker — a new head coach and an entire new slate of co-ordinators, last year’s last place team is starting this season alone in first.
The team that finished 7-11 in the CFL West after losing the first four out of the gate in 2010, put the boots to a Saskatchewan Roughriders squad that has been to three of the last four Grey Cup games.
This was storybook stuff in a stadium where horror stories are mostly written by visiting sportswriters.
There’s no downplaying the significance of what happened here as the Eskimos put a 42-28 win in their back pockets and headed home to Commonwealth Stadium to play three of their next four — starting with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday.
“It’s just one game, but it’s a real good one,” said Tillman.
“This is significant for so many reasons. We have a new coach and new co-ordinators. We have a lot of new players on this team.
“It sends the right message to the community that we’re headed down the right path. And any time you open the season with a win on the road, especially when it comes in a place like this, it’s significant.”
If you’re quarterback Ricky Ray and you start the season with three touchdown passes after only managing 11 all of last season with the most predictable offence since the ’60s (when the only play was a sweep to Jim Thomas), it was a great way to reboot.
Ray was 21-for-27 passing for 294 yards and made newcomer Adarius Bowman a 100-yard receiver with a touchdown.
He should have had two TDs, but he fumbled the ball out of bounds at the one-yard line.
Ray also made Jason Barnes a 100-yard receiver, to go with with his two touchdowns.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Ray at the end of the day.
“It was definitely an opportunity to find out what kind of a team we have. We showed some real aggressive play-calling early.
“This offence is going to have deep routes available on almost every play, and we have some big targets there who can go up and make a play.
“On some shorter passes, we had guys who caught the ball and then went and made the other guys miss,” he said.
And then there was the big one.
“The offensive line did a great job,” Ray said.
Because of injuries, there was great concern about the hogs going into this one.
“It was a very strong performance by the offensive line,” said rookie head coach Kavis Reed.
Reed handled it like it was his 101st win — and admitted that was intentional.
“I know it’s an 18-game season, and I don’t want to let this win take away from the next game we have to play.,” he said.
The biggest thing about the win, according to Crandell and Stubler, was the confidence it gives the players in themselves, their teammates and the systems they’re trying to implement.
“That’s very important,” said Crandell.
“It’s important to me, too. It was my first game as a co-ordinator,” he said.
“The young guys hung together,” he said. “Winning the first game in this situation makes a huge difference, especially with so many guys here who are new.”
Nobody is going to use this game to declare that the Evil Empire is back.
But there’s room to believe that maybe, just maybe, it’s back on track.
It certainly kick-starts a new season for a town that hasn’t managed to get much of a kick out of the former flagship franchise lately.