What Travel Writers Say

Rider Nation sizzles in Saskatchewan!

© by Mike Keenan
Ken Danby Painting - Sports Hall Of Fame

Effervescent Viv McGunigal and five equally bubbly Saskatoon lady friends warmly greet me in Regina's Delta Hotel lobby prior to today's CFL game between her beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders (3-7) and the Toronto Argonauts (2-9). They sport green and white Rider jerseys and paraphernalia.
     "There's so much hype and fun and colour," she says. "You see a sea of green bodies, and you don't know how people get so creative. You spot watermelon heads, and will not be able to buy a watermelon in town today. Last year a guy in 30° C weather wore a long fur coat, dyed green!"
     The Delta (all 274 rooms sold out) represents a fan microcosm, the restaurant and front desk staff in Rider colours, a team that once played in an amazing 11 consecutive western finals and five Grey Cup games, winning more games from 1966 to 1976 than any professional team in the world.

2007 Grey Cup Champs  3 Generations Of The Harker Family  Bushwakker Brew Pub Staff  Cheerleader Reunion  Face Painting  Family Zone  Football Legend George Reed Signing Autograph  Happy Fans

     At Mosaic Stadium, Steve Mazurak, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, says, "Here, the emphasis is on fan, not record or players. There's no NHL or pro soccer, so football is significant, despite being the smallest CFL market. Our campaigns are geared to the fans." I witness this walking past the nearby business headquarters where there are more huge pictures of fans displayed than that of players. Their website http://www.riderville.com/ promotes "fan of the day" pictures and the Rider Oath, which seems somewhat sacred.
     Sheila Kelly, Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame concurs with the religious theme: "Game day IS a pilgrimage, not just for those in Saskatchewan but ex-pats from the United States who coordinate holiday schedules to take in a football game."
     Her current exhibit showcases 100 years of Saskatchewan football. "The Riders are the only pro sports team that wears the provincial name, so it unites everyone in Rider pride," explains Kelly. "It's also a prairie thing; we think nothing of jumping into a car and driving for four hours; it's just what we do."

Helmet Selection  Kid Zone Activities  Ladies With Favourite Player Chris Getzlaf  Ordinary Fan From Norway  Pep Band In Action  Proud Fan Number 89  Rider Toenail Fashion  Saskatoon Gals Darlene Dansereau & Kim Brown At The Delta Hotel

     Mazurak reports that they sell $250.00 shares, part of the public team ownership concept adapted from the Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin. It's similar to a "membership" purchase at Ontario's Stratford Shakespearian Festival, allowing benefits, discounts, payment options etc., but no financial return. "Our merchandising embraces technology; last year, sales topped $10,000,000, placing Saskatchewan in the midpoint of NFL teams and ahead of NHL teams!" I witness a pre and post game swarm through the on-site stadium store with a myriad assortment of memorabilia available there, geared to every taste.
     Kelly adds, "The economy, for the first time in my lifetime makes us a 'have' province, and for the last three years with the team performing well, that gives everybody a reason to be upbeat and proud."

Beer Hat Fan  Game Fireworks  Pride Lives Here - George Reed  Pride Lives Here - Ron Lancaster  Stadium Store Queue

     Craig Reynolds, Roughrider's Chief Financial Officer, reports $38 million in total gross revenues in 2010. Not only did the club sell out its regular-season games, but total gate receipts were $11.3 million, surpassing the previous year's record by nine per cent.
     Amanda Cachia, former curator at Regina's Dunlap Art Gallery, suggests, "There are two large banners on each side of Mosaic Stadium with prominent players George Reed and Ron Lancaster wearing the green jersey with bold capitalized words emblazoned across the top: PRIDE LIVES HERE. This captures the relationship that the Saskatchewan Roughriders fans have for their team." I watch a documentary that reveals that after Grey Cup victories, the Riders returned home each time to their stadium where 10,000 loyal fans waited in sub zero weather!

Beer Hat Fan  Roughrider Fans  Fans In Stadium Store  Father, Daughter Fans  A Green Hair Day  Horns & Beer Combo  Jamie McKenzie  MVP

     Do the fans travel to Winnipeg and Calgary, and how do they get there? "Yes and by any means!" Kelly laughs. "There was a classic Internet picture last year with the Grey Cup in Edmonton, several combine's roaring across prairie wheat fields with the caption - 'Rider fans on way to the Grey Cup.'"
     At the Hall of Fame, artist Ken Danby's iconic painting of a Rider centre, quarterback and two backs greets one at the entrance, formidable power suggested in the concentrated alignment. An appropriate metaphor. There are more paintings by local artists, Joel and Drew Hunter, but the big surprise is the fact that Rider colours were originally black and red. Strapped for cash and their existence in peril, in 1947, Regina businessman R. J. Fyffe, on a trip to Chicago, came across a sports equipment salvage shop with a complete set of used nylon football jerseys at a giveaway price. The catch - they were green and white. The rest is history. "Sounds corny, but that's what happened," relates Kelly.
     Mazurak suggests that "We are in a bubble here with a strong economy, and agriculture, formerly number one, is now three or four behind potash, uranium and oil." He emphasizes the importance of game-days sponsors and has added wrinkles such as pyrotechnics exploding in the air after scores, a good-sized female fan base and security - fans are not unruly so it's a great family outing.
     Precisely what I encounter - happy campers gathered in an adjacent roped-off field with drinks in hand, play-stations for the kids, artists painting faces with room to interact and show off outlandish Rider outfits, one gentleman all the way from Norway. Jamie McKenzie arrives on public transit in his wheel chair. A 'pep band' plays at the entrance, and there's a huge reunion of cheerleaders from the1960s to the present day. During the game, there's a steady stream of prizes and fans are filmed and displayed on the scoreboard. Prior to the game, I encounter George Reed, one of the aforementioned two gods resident on the huge stadium banners. George maintains most Rider rushing and scoring records, and now works for Casino Regina. Besieged for autographs, he still gives back to the fans.

Sheila Kelly & George Reed Exhibit  Yorkton Tailgaters Sherry Wenet, Dwayne Derbowka, Lynette Strom & Brian Derbowka  Three More Fans  Trying On Head Gear  VP Steve Mazurak  Watermelon Heads  Wheat Heads  Wayne, Dave & Nolan Harker - Three Generations Of Fans

     A symbol of Rider Nation solidarity was my encounter with a three-generation family of fans: Wayne Harker, 69, fan for 55+ years, son Dave Harker, 45, fan for 35+ years and his son, Nolan Wilson-Harker - 7, fan since birth. Wayne was born in Regina and grew-up in what is now the north end zone. He watched games from his garage roof as a boy. Retired, he lives in Edmonton, but has remained true to the spirit of Rider football.
     The game itself? Sold-out as usual: 29,048 fans. The crowd roars in support of their defence while the Argos control the ball for most of the first half, racking up a 12-7 lead. "Don't worry," says the young man beside me. "We're a second half team; we'll come back." And they do, winning 30-20. Fans merrily stream out of the stadium in a steady river of green, and all is well again in this remarkable Rider Nation.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

If you go
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regina,_Saskatchewan
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Regina
Tourism Saskatchewan: http://www.sasktourism.com/
Regina Delta Hotel: http://www.deltahotels.com/en/hotels/saskatchewan/delta-regina/
I was on the 24th floor and could see the entire city!
Bushwakker's Brew Pub: http://www.bushwakker.com/
Close to the stadium on Dewdeny Ave., therefore a post-game celebration venue.
Beer Brothers Bakery & Cuisine: http://www.beerbros.ca/
Downtown with great food & beer
About.com: http://canadaonline.about.com/od/cities/g/regina.htm
Places of worship: http://www.yellowpages.ca/search/si/1/Churches...
Fiction: http://www.skwriter.com/find-saskatchewan-writers/browse/172

Riderville: http://www.riderville.com/
Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame: http://www.sshfm.com/

Travel Aid
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Maps (Google interactive map): http://maps.google.com/
Maps (Mapquest) U.S. & Canada: http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp
Maps (Mapquest) World: http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp?country=GB
Media Guide (local newspapers with current listings): http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/
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Mosaic Stadium

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