I tried to concentrate during the Saskatchewan Roughriders' Sept. 4 game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but my mind kept drifting to the James Smith Cree Nation and the village of Weldon.
As the game began, word trickled in to reporters around me that 10 people had been stabbed to death and another 15 were in hospital. During my 47 year legal career I have represented many individuals from the reserve and for a time the three bands (James Smith, Chakastaypasin and Peter Chapman).
Sports is a great escape for a few hours from the cares and trials of the world but events can overwhelm sports.
Sharon and I were watching a hockey game at the Temple Gardens Hotel in Moose Jaw when the game was interrupted by an announcement of the Humboldt bus crash. Through that terrible evening the details just kept getting worse and worse.
That crash was just over half an hour northeast of Melfort. The stabbings on the reserve were just over half an hour northwest of Melfort. Weldon is just under half an hour west of Melfort.
I made my notes as usual during Sunday’s game. Every now and then I took a look at the news where there was no new information.
It was an exciting game with many good plays.
Cody Fajardo looked crisper and more poised than he has all season until the fateful drive where his pass, under pressure from Willie Jefferson, over the middle to Frankie Hickson was high and outside and tipped and intercepted by Nick Hallett. It was a bad throw at the worst moment.
Fajardo and Craig Dickenson did not regret the call to pass instead of running. Fajardo said it was a slippery slope to run and probably have to kick a field goal. He worried about Winnipeg having time for a drive. Dickenson said he lets his defensive and offensive co-ordinators call what they think best. He did not dictate running in the last two minutes. He said they wanted a touchdown.
I thought Fajardo and Dickenson’s reasoning was flawed. They had just run for a first down. On his 15 carries for 85 yards Hickson was averaging 5.7 yards per carry. The odds were better to run on at least first down.
As well, there was an unstated subtext to the rationale for the pass. It was that the Riders felt they needed a touchdown to avoid the defence having to stop Winnipeg from getting a field goal in the final minute of the game.
My son Michael and I debated the call. I originally favoured the pass. Michael thought they should run. After reflection I have come to agree with Michael.
I thought the second biggest play of the game was Winnipeg punter Marc Legghio in the second quarter side stepping the rush of A.J. Allen and getting away a punt when he had no chance of kicking it before Allen reached him. Dickenson said Legghio was a crafty guy and that he was reminded of Argo punter, Noel Prefontaine. Dickenson said the Riders had a good pressure scheme on the play. It was so good Allen was unblocked. It is hard for a punt blocker during the play to move from focusing on blocking the punt to tackling the punter. Had the punt been blocked I expect the Riders would have scored and been in the lead at halftime.
While the defence played a strong game I was disappointed in the number of times they let Zack Collaros escape contain, especially to the right. Dickenson said the Rider defence played some games with linemen. He said he thought the line got pressure making Collaros uncomfortable and getting him off his spot from where he wanted to throw the ball. I agree they were getting pressure but too many times there was no one coming around the end to prevent Collaros from escaping the pressure.
After the game my mind returned to James Smith and Weldon. I dreaded that I likely knew some of those injured and killed. By Monday night my fears were realized. I did know some of the victims on the reserve. As I wrote this column I was thinking more about those dead and injured than the football game. I will be praying for them. Life can have terrible ways of keeping sports in perspective.
Bill Selnes, who’s based in Melfort, has written about the Saskatchewan Roughriders since the late 1970s. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, Football Reporters of Canada wing on Nov. 24, 2013.