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Home Opinion Rain or shine, win or lose, the Labour Day Classic (almost) always delivers

Rain or shine, win or lose, the Labour Day Classic (almost) always delivers

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Rain or shine, win or lose, the Labour Day Classic (almost) always delivers
Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Labour Day weekend made me a football fan.

I knew all about the Riders as a kid. I knew they were the CFL’s lovable losers, a team that turned defeat into an art form. They were the squad that missed the playoffs 11 consecutive years in a division where all you had to do to make them was not finish last. They were the team with only two (at the time) Grey Cups. There were teams that went bankrupt during the Depression who had more.

I knew Rider fans were a passionate, but volatile, lot. I knew the team’s play generated almost as much talk in Saskatchewan’s small farming communities as grain prices and the weather. But knowing about a team and embracing them as your own are two different things.
I might have never embraced the Riders but for my mom entering a word-scramble contest in the Regina Leader-Post. The reward package included a night at the Hotel Saskatchewan and tickets to see the Saskatchewan Roughriders take on Winnipeg in the annual Labour Day Classic.

My mom, a converted Rider fan who grew up on the west coast before moving to Regina for high school, entered because she liked puzzles and was a little miffed at how easy this one turned out to be. She was also excited about staying at the Hotel Saskatchewan. For my younger brother and I, two kids living in a tiny village of less than 50 people near the U.S. border—this was like winning a trip to New York.
These were the days of CFL blackouts and spotty TV coverage. At best, we could see two, maybe three Rider games on TV every year. Otherwise, we had to settle for local sports highlights, and our dad’s VHS copy of “Share the Pride: The Incredible Story of the 1989 Saskatchewan Roughriders”.

Watching nothing but highlight shows gives a kid warped ideas about how to run a football team. We thought the easiest way to score a touchdown was to throw a 50-yard bomb, something the Riders did frequently in the Kent Austin years.

I was surprised, and a little annoyed, when Austin opened Saskatchewan’s first possession of the game with two straight quick 7-8 yard passes, both of which were picked off by Winnipeg defenders, and both of which were called back due to Winnipeg penalties.

I was surprised, and a little annoyed, when Austin opened Saskatchewan’s first possession of the game with two straight quick 7-8 yard passes, both of which were picked off by Winnipeg defenders, and both of which were called back due to Winnipeg penalties.

We were in the last row of the upper deck in Taylor Field’s old west-side stands. The bomber fans in our section whopped with delight, despite the penalties. I sulked. Why was Austin throwing all this short stuff? The highlight shows we watched showed teams airing it out for long touchdown passes.

The Austin approach paid off in the end, and the Rider offence torched Winnipeg for over 50 points and a Labour Day classic victory. The game acquainted me with the ups and downs of being a Roughrider fan, and introduced me to CFL officiating.

My only memory of that game, aside from the Austin interceptions, is the referees throwing a flag on the Bomber defence, huddling to talk about it, then announcing there was no flag on the play. I can’t remember whether the call was right or wrong. I just remember the boos drowning out every other noise in the stadium.

I loved every minute of being in Taylor Field, and from that moment on, I was a Rider fan.

As I got older, Labour Day games became a special treat. The tickets were expensive, and sold out quickly. Even when I moved to Regina for university, going to the Labour Day Classic was almost always out of the question.

One exception came in 2007, when my brother and I somehow lucked into a few Labour Day end zone seats. We had never sat in the end zone before and didn’t expect to see much, but we ended up with a perfect view of Kerry Joseph scampering 27 yards up the middle for the game winning touchdown. It was like watching the Red Sea part before your eyes.

That’s not to say every Labour Day Classic I attended was a, well, classic. In 2004, my friends and I painted our entire bodies green for the first and last time of our lives, then lined up four hours early for the field level end zone seats on the south side of the stadium. We sat right on the turf, just a few steps behind the back of the field, and had a perfect, unobstructed seat to watch the Riders fumble twice on the one yard line.

Winnipeg managed only 17 points, but that was enough to beat the anemic Rider offence that day. The only excitement came when one of Regina’s finest blindsided a fan who ran naked on to the field in the dying moments of the game. Given how brutal the old turf was at Taylor Field, the guy probably still has the scars to prove it, although you likely can’t see them when he’s dressed.

That last game was proof that even when the Riders weren’t playing well, the fans, the stadium, and the atmosphere always made Labour Day a game worth paying attention to. Here’s hoping for another classic on Sunday.

Jason Kerr is a longtime Saskatchewan Roughriders fan and the editor of the Prince Albert Daily Herald.