Although finding your place in a new city and a new province takes time, I’ve been pleasantly surprised how quickly my new hometown has truly felt like home. Before moving to Saskatchewan, I really only knew of the province through a few of its far reaching stereotypes – the cold, the wheat, and yes, the Roughriders. I’m still awaiting my first cold snap – moving here in April was a brilliant stroke of timing. I’ve sampled liberally a number of delicacies made with the staple crop of the province, and now, I’ve perhaps become a real Saskatchewanian (Saskatchewaner?)… I’ve seen my first Roughriders game in person.
Continuing the tradition of my wife and I taking an annual “honeymoon” trip in lieu of anniversary gifts, honeymoon #4 was a weekend in Regina to see our new favourite team. Although this trip was a blast, my wife has insisted that honeymoon #5 be more along the lines of previous destinations (Puerto Rico, San Diego/Tijuana, Boston). But I digress.
Game day in Regina got underway with an incredible bit of good luck and timing. Off on a search for coffee, I stumbled into a celebration of the 1966 Grey Cup winning Riders team happening in our hotel. They had brought along the Grey Cup and I got to spend a few minutes with this iconic symbol of Canada. It’s dented and scratched up. It’s clearly a good times trophy and I can’t imagine the likes of the parties it has seen in its 106 years of life.
You’ll notice I was in a Riders shirt and hat at that early hour. The hotel lobby was already filling up with fans in search of breakfast – everyone wearing the green of the good guys. After visiting the lovely Regina farmer’s market and doing some craft beer sampling at the ripe hour of 11am, my wife and I headed out to the stadium for some pregame festivities.
The shirt and the hat weren’t the only Roughriders items I was sporting on this fine July afternoon. In the hopes of meeting Gainer, the Riders mascot, I wore this tattoo of him on my left wrist. My wife threw the temporary tattoo into the cart the week before at the Riders store in Saskatoon. She knows I’m essentially an 8 year old at heart.
We lucked out with a perfect day for football. Blue skies, only light breezes and a temperature in the low 20s. After the gates to the stadium opened, we made our way down to the lower level seats to take in warmups.
Being in a stadium on a beautiful day calls for a snack. Not a great selection of eats in Mosaic Stadium (hopefully, something that will improve in the new stadium next season), but you can’t go wrong with a grilled sausage. Being in Saskatchewan, a can of pilsner washed this down. I’m a bit of a beer snob, but I was happy to get the full on cultural experience on this afternoon.
In what would be some foreshadowing for the game ahead, we watched the BC Lions quarterback warm up throwing perfect spirals deep downfield. Interestingly, this warmup also approximated the type of defensive coverage the wide receivers would face all afternoon.
At the other end of the field, the kickers and punters were warming up. I can imagine that kicking here can be a massive challenge on windy days, but no issue on this afternoon.
All good things must come to an end, so we headed up to our seats in the upper level. These were the best we could buy as the Riders have a loyal season ticket holder base who have already snapped up all the good lower level seats. High up, but almost dead on midfield, this was still a great place to watch the action unfold.
This was as close as I got to Gainer on the day. I may have shrieked at the first sight of him running on the field during “Gainer Time”. I have a thing for mascots, and now I’m fully on board as a Riders fan, Gainer is right up there in my mascot hall of fame with Youppi! who I hope to one day reconnect with on the rebirth of my Expos.
The crowd of just over 31,000 was on its feet for the introduction of the Riders. I have to admit it gave me goosebumps. In a moment of happiness and clarity, I realized this is now my team too.
The Riders won the coin toss, elected to kick off, and my first Riders game was underway…
… and then, like all of my sports teams, the Riders started to slowly, and dramatically, break my heart. Here’s the BC Lions quarterback running in for a touchdown on a broken play to put his team in the lead.
Through an up and down game, I was really impressed with the Riders fans. I’ve been to a lot of NFL games, and fans there are much harsher on the home team. Even through a second half of ineptitude, there wasn’t as much as a single “boo!” or “you suck!” thrown out. This guy sitting in front of us, one of many, many crazy fans, remained optimistic in the face of all contrary evidence.
The first half was actually kind to the Riders. Here’s my first Riders touchdown, a 30 yard slant pass to Rob Bagg. Beauty pass, and sadly, the last play of the game for the Riders star QB who sprained his ankle on the previous play. Have I mentioned I tend to curse my teams?
The Riders finished the first half strong with their backup QB, pulling out to a 23-10 lead. We were all joyous. Then the second half happened. This is the BC Lions with the ball, something they had the entire second half, outscoring the Riders 30-4 over the last thirty minutes.
Sitting in the upper deck as the clocked burned down to zero, I was hooked. The game was crazy entertaining and the atmosphere was amazing with the optimism and positivity of the fans. Perfectly fitting for my cheering sensibilities and history, a bit of hope early, then a crushing defeat. They may not be a great team, but they are now my not great team.
I’m home on the prairies now.