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2020 Grey Cup in Riderville should be one to remember

It didn’t take long for Randy Ambrosie to realize he’d arrived in Rider Nation.

The CFL commissioner hadn’t even disembarked from his flight at the Regina International Airport when he was approached by a restless fan of the Saskatchewan Roughriders who wondered about the possibility of the home team being part of the 108th Grey Cup game on Nov. 22 in Regina.

“I’ve been here now for about 16 hours,” Ambrosie said Friday during a media conference at Mosaic Stadium. “I’ve only been asked four times if I can guarantee that the Riders will be in the game (laughs). I said to all four of those people, ‘No, I can’t guarantee that, but I am absolutely certain that I can guarantee this will be one of the greatest Grey Cups in CFL history.’ ”

It’s an ambitious goal but one that the local organizing committee embraced during the bid process and beyond.

It’ll be the first Grey Cup at new Mosaic Stadium, which opened in 2017.

“This is an opportunity to continue to raise the bar,” said Riders president/CEO Craig Reynolds, who credited the past two host cities (Edmonton and Calgary) for doing the same. “What has happened — and it’s full credit to Randy and his vision for what a Grey Cup can become and the bid process — is you’re forced to continually raise the bar. I know when we submitted the bid we had to think bold and we had to think big. That’s partly why we won the bid.”

It might also have something to do with Saskatchewan’s reputation for taking the CFL’s showcase event to another level — most recently in 2013.

This year is expected to be no different.

“I’ve been travelling the country and people are talking about this Grey Cup,” Ambrosie said. “That’s a testimony to the whole Riderville vibe and, frankly, Western hospitality and Saskatchewan hospitality. Those things are at the heart of what is causing people to want to be here.”

In other words, Saskatchewan is a place where the CFL matters.

“I think it’s pretty clear this is a community that loves their football team and literally football is everywhere,” Ambrosie continued. “You get off the plane, you’re walking through the airport, you know where you are. You can just feel it. This is the home of the Riders.”

With that comes pressure to deliver a top-notch experience on the national stage.

Reynolds welcomes the challenge.

“There are huge expectations but I will say we have incredible volunteers who are incredibly committed,” said the Riders’ boss, who’s also serving as a Grey Cup Festival co-chair. “We’ll have a lot of future announcements but it is going to be big. Just think about the street festival here on the grounds — 415,000 square feet of activation space. And then, of course, the stadium. The stadium is going to raise the bar for Grey Cups as well. It’s Canada’s newest stadium and arguably Canada’s best stadium so I think the Grey Cup will showcase really, really well here.”

Ambrosie thinks so too, calling Mosaic Stadium a “cathedral” of football.

However, that’s only part of the reason why the CFL’s smallest market was awarded the Grey Cup.

“There are so many elements to this that were impressive,” added the commissioner. “It was almost overwhelming the number of things they were talking about doing and doing well. The whole package was just a sight to behold. It made for an easy Grey Cup 108 decision.”

Further details on Grey Cup plans are to be unveiled in the coming weeks and months.

In the meantime, there’s plenty of work being done behind the scenes.

“We’re nine months out now so there’s lots of planning still to go,” Reynolds said. “I think we’re right on track right now. The festival has grown so much even since we hosted in 2013. There’s a lot of work associated with that but we like where we’re at.”

Once preparations are complete, it’ll be up to the Riders to add the icing on the cake. That’s what they did in 2013 by defeating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at old Mosaic Stadium, an outcome which elevated the 101st Grey Cup to iconic status in Saskatchewan.

Could that happen again?

“It’s really hard to get to the Grey Cup and it has been traditionally really hard for the host city to be in the game,” said Ambrosie, a former CFL player. “I don’t think it would be surprising for anyone to know that it would be powerful (to have Saskatchewan in the game). But there is also something to the value of one of the other western teams playing an eastern team here at this beautiful location.

“I think it’s a win-win. If the Riders make it in, obviously that’s going to be special. But if the Riders don’t, I think it’s going to be special as well.”

gharder@postmedia.com

Source: montrealgazette.com