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Experience has taught Darian Durant to embrace all that Grey Cup has to offer

11/23/2013 01:00 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 05:59 EST
REGINA - Experience has taught Darian Durant many lessons, including to enjoy the moment.

On Friday night, the Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback went to the Riderville pavilion and rubbed elbows with some of the CFL team's rabid fans. It's something Durant wouldn't have thought of doing back in '09 and '10 when he was making his first two Grey Cup appearances as the club's starter.

"I would've been hiding out somewhere," a laid-back Durant said Saturday following the Riders' last walkthrough of the season. "The biggest difference is being more mature, understanding what comes along with the week, understanding to adjust to the different schedules and just soaking in the moment.

"It's a rare opportunity, especially to play at home and I just want to enjoy every second of it. (In '09 and '10) we were all young pups running around like a chicken with its head cut off, not realizing the moment we just out there playing. Now, we understand what's at stake, we understand what it takes to get the job done."

Saskatchewan is a decided six-and-a-half point favourite Sunday when it hosts the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Grey Cup game. Durant already has a championship ring from '07 when he was the club's No. 3 quarterback but is 0-2 as a starter after consecutive championship losses to Montreal.

And while admitting to feeling a little anxious, Durant can't wait for the opening kickoff.

"Just ready to go, just looking forward to the opportunity to play a Grey Cup at home," he said. "It's a very rare opportunity.

"They say butterflies are a good thing so I've got a couple of butterflies. Just glad the week is over and we finally get down to business and that's playing this game."

The Riders are looking to become the third straight team to win a Grey Cup as the host city, and they'll have a definite home-field advantage. The game is a sellout with the majority of the 45,000-plus spectators expected to be clad in green garb. And they'll be loud in their support of the home team, which is looking for just the fourth Grey Cup title in its history and first since '07.

"If our fans are loud and make it hard for those guys it's definitely to our advantage," Durant said. "Everyone who comes to the game, scream until your voice goes.

"We're going to hear everybody . . . wherever in the province, we hear you. Just be ready to cheer."

Riders fans will have plenty to scream about given the Saskatchewan ties of some Ticats.

Starting quarterback Henry Burris and slotback Andy Fantuz are both former Riders while Ticats head coach Kent Austin led Saskatchewan to a Grey Cup win as the starting QB in '89 and then '07 as the club's rookie head coach. Burris said he planned to spend time Saturday with his parents, wife and two young sons before returning to spend the night at the team hotel.

And while Regina will always have a special spot in Burris's heart, he'd love to crash the party at Mosaic Stadium on Sunday.

"Once (family time) is over, it's time to lock in," Burris said. "I want to be the ultimate hoser to Riders' fans.

"If we can do that and get it done that would be the ultimate coming back to a place that means so much to me. This is a hotbed of football . . . what better atmosphere to be able to pull something like that in."

Austin left Regina after the '07 season to become the offensive co-ordinator at his alma mater, Ole Miss, and spent three years as the head coach at Cornell before joining the Ticats on Dec. 12, 2012.

Austin isn't forgotten in Regina. A huge mural of his likeness appears at Mosaic Stadium and there's a parking lot there named after him.

Saskatchewan swept the season series 2-0 but earned both wins in July. Hamilton comes into the Grey Cup on an impressive roll, having won 11 of its last 15 games and Austin is 5-0 in the playoffs as a CFL head coach as the Ticats look for their first league title since '99 under late coach Ron Lancaster.

Weather has been the big story as both teams have had to practise in bitter cold. In fact, several Ticats players experienced frostbite due to the frigid conditions earlier this week.

On Saturday, veteran Riders slotback Geroy Simon wore a winter parka — complete with fur-lined hood — under his jersey while fellow receiver Taj Smith wore a trapper's hat with fur flaps. And many Saskatchewan players donned boots instead of traditional cleats.

Sunday's forecast is calling for a high of -1 C — downright balmy compared to the -30 C conditions earlier this week — although it will be significantly colder by the projected 6 p.m. ET kickoff with the possibility of 15 kilometre-an-hour winds.

TSN will carry the contest across Canada but the Grey Cup will have a North American appeal as it will be broadcast south of the border on NBC and carried on Sirius satellite radio.

And it will have an entertainment appeal that reaches beyond football. The Sheepdogs will perform during the opening ceremonies with Serena Ryder singing the national anthem.

And at halftime, pop group Hedley will perform. Hedley has sold 800,000 albums and won two Juno Awards.

But with practices over and media interviews complete, players are left to their own thoughts in the hours leading up to the opening kickoff.

"That's the tricky part," Riders offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte said. "You just have to try to keep your emotions in check as much as you can and prepare as if it were any other game and do what your normal routine would be at the hotel.

"It's going to be a long morning waiting for that bus to finally roll out of the hotel."

Ticats rookie tackle Joel Figueroa, who played his college football at Miami, plans to curl up with a good book.

"I'll just get into my playbook, watch film and try to pick up some things I wasn't picking up before and try to perfect my craft," he said. "But at the same time, there's not much more I can learn, you just have to go out there and play.

"So I'll have a warm shower, relax in my room and maybe watch TV."

And what will Figueroa tune into?

"Some football, naturally," he says with a broad grin.

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