Five consecutive victories have given Roy Shivers a chance to dream.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders are the CFL's hottest team, having won five straight games, including contests against the first-place clubs in the East and West Divisions. With four regular-season games remaining, the Riders not only control their playoff destiny but also whether they finish second in the Western Conference and earn their first home playoff game in nearly 20 years.
''It's important to us because we haven't had one for so long,'' said Shivers, the Roughriders' colourful general manager. ''We can make some money off of it.''
Saskatchewan last hosted a CFL playoff game in 1988 when it finished tied with Edmonton for top spot in the West Division standings with an 11-7-0 record. But the B.C. Lions beat the Roughriders in the conference semifinal 42-18.
In fact, Saskatchewan's last home playoff win was a 23-13 decision over Edmonton in the 1976 West Division final. But Ottawa beat the Roughriders 23-20 in the Grey Cup, thanks to Tony Gabriel's last-minute touchdown catch.
However, second place remains very much a possibility for the streaking Roughriders, presently tied with the Eskimos (both have 8-6 records) behind the front-running B.C. Lions (11-2). After hosting the Montreal Alouettes on Saturday, Saskatchewan finishes its regular season against division rivals Edmonton, the Calgary Stampeders and B.C.
The Roughriders are 5-2 versus West Division clubs this year.
''Our guys have a quiet confidence,'' Shivers said. ''They know they can compete with any team in this league.
''There are no super teams in the league.''
Home-field advantage would certainly be big for the Roughriders, who boast a 5-2 record at Taylor Field and are tied with Toronto and Montreal for the second-best home mark in the CFL.
Finishing with a bang isn't new for the Roughriders, who last year won their final regular-season games to secure third spot in the West Division. The season before, they won their final four games.
But being in position to finish second is pretty heady stuff for a Roughriders team that midway through the season was languishing with a 3-6 record.
''To us, it has been a thing of trying to get healthy,'' Shivers said. ''We were all beat up.
''We haven't played with the team that we originally wanted to since the third quarter of the first game. It has been a succession of things to happen to us injury-wise but now we're starting to get healthy.''
Saskatchewan certainly endured its share of injuries, having to go stretches without such starters as defensive tackle Nate Davis, linebacker Jackie Mitchell, running back Kenton Keith, centre Jeremy O'Day and guards Andrew Greene and Fred Childress. The club has also been without its top receiver, slotback Matt Dominguez, for much of the season.<
However, a big reason for the turnaround could be coach Danny Barrett's hunch. After Saskatchewan lost its fifth straight game, a 19-15 decision to B.C. on Aug. 27, Barrett promoted backup quarterback Marcus Crandell to the starter's role ahead of incumbent Nealon Greene.
The Roughriders haven't lost since under Crandell, who led Calgary to the 2001 Grey Cup and was named the game's outstanding player.
''The big thing is Marcus hasn't turned the ball over,'' Shivers said. ''You have to take advantage of your breaks but you can't put the ball on the ground and turn it over, which was killing us early, more than injuries.
''We don't ask (the quarterback) to win games for us, we ask him to manage the game because we think we're pretty good at the other skill spots and think we have a heck of an offensive line. Marcus done that and now Nealon is healthy so if anything happens to Marcus we think we're in good shape.''
Saskatchewan also has a chance to accomplish something that hasn't been done in the CFL for 30 years - boast two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.
Keith is the club's rushing leader with 809 yards, but backup Corey Holmes isn't far behind with 731 yards. What's more, Keith is averaging 6.4 yards per carry, just ahead of Holmes (6.3 per carry).
However, running the football is no accident with the Roughriders, who are the CFL's top-rushing team, averaging 145.2 yards per game.
''The funny thing is we've got another kid (rookie Dominique Darcey) on the practice roster who's a heck of a player but we can't get him on the roster,'' Shivers said. ''The thing is we've got two kids who can go all the way.
''Kenton is more a slasher, make-you-miss type of guy while Corey gets into the hole quick and turns it on. If it (two 1,000-yard rushers) happens in the context of us winning games I've got no problems with it but we're going to try to win games first.''
The last time two running backs on the same team had 1,000 yards rushing was 1974 when Lou Harris and Monroe Eley played for B.C