If you need a new team to cheer for to get into the Grey Cup vibe, now that the Toronto Argonauts have blown it so badly, join me as another unlikely fan of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
I’m not from Saskatchewan and the few times I’ve been there it was usually on my way to somewhere else. But I’ve always been drawn to the place as the homestead of Tommy Douglas and Gordie Howe. And I’m a sucker for a team that has a plant – a stalk of prairie wheat – as a logo instead of a howling animal or an appropriated native icon. The Green Riders are the archetype of the ultimate small-market team in the little Big league that is the CFL. Like the Winnipeg Blue Bombers that they’ll battle this weekend at the Dome, the Riders are owned by the community, not some milk-fed rich guys trying to scratch their jock itch by rubbing broad shoulders with professional athletes in their employ.
I love the only-in-the-CFL insanity that actually saw two teams named Roughriders in what was then a nine team league. Ottawa’s Rough Riders split the name into two words somehow thinking this would eliminate any confusion though in the 60s both towns fielded similar teams. The great Ottawa Riders were helmed by awesome Canadian quarterback Russ Jackson while the Prairie Riders were QB-ed by another killer Canuck Ron Lancaster.
No television network gives a shit about Regina, Saskatoon or Moose Jaw as a market but the people of this prairie province sure give a shit about their Green Riders. The province-wide moniker means something, unlike when other grabby franchise owners stick a state or provincial label on a team just to leech into a larger market – and because they don’t believe in the home one. Rider fans think nothing of driving three-and-a-half hours each way to see their team play “home” games. Twenty-five per cent of all merchandise sold in the CFL has a Roughriders logo on it and the little shop in Taylor Field Stadium where the Riders play sells more team swag than any other franchise in the league.
I’m confidant more Rider fans will drag their asses to Toronto than the all the other teams’ fans combined, including their Blue Bomber foes. The Riders don’t win a lot, not Maple Leaf-style losers, but they’re not regular victors and haven’t taken home a Cup since the 80s. But their patient fans are convinced the community owned squad is always committed to doing everything they can to win. Star quarterback Kerry Joseph took a $100,000 dollar pay cut on a $300k plus salary this year so there would be more salary cap cash left to help the Riders field a contending team.
Joseph’s sacrifice could well be rewarded this weekend as the T-dot is awash in a wave of Rider green and the Prairie Poster Boys bring the hardware home to CFL-loving hometown fans. Go Riders!