As a transplanted prairie boy who grew up in thrall to his beloved Saskatchewan Roughriders (the only professional sports team in the province), there was no way I was going to miss yesterday’s Canadian Football League Western Final, which pitted the Riders against the BC Lions… not with the game played in my adopted city of Vancouver, just a couple Skytrain stops from home.
The Riders have traditionally been one of the weakest teams in the league, annually breaking the hearts of what are widely regarded as the most devoted fans in the country. The last few years have been a bit better in that regard, with the club competing respectably, though without making it to a Grey Cup championship… The Riders had been a hot team down the stretch, and dim embers of hope warmed frostbitten memories of past disappointments.
55,000 came out to the game — about 15,000 of us carrying the torch and cheering on the Green and White (there’s a whole lotta transplanted stubble-jumpers out here). A great excuse to get together with old buddies who have also taken refuge from Saskatchewan winters on the wet coast. My mounting boyish excitement as gameday approached surprised me a bit, demonstrating that while I have embraced Vancouver as the place I want to live (at least right now), at heart Saskatchewan is my home.
The game was fabulous — both teams passed the ball at will… I don’t think I have ever seen a more impressive Rider QB performance than the one Henry Burris turned in. Dollar for dollar, there’s no professional league that delivers better entertainment value than the CFL, and this game was evidence of that. And when the Riders scored the go-ahead TD on a tremendous catch by Elijah Thurmon with just over a minute remaining in regulation time, even the most pessimistic of Rider fans (ahem) let themselves believe that this just might be the year for a miracle…
Of course, it was not to be. The Riders found a way yet again to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory via a series of events so disheartening I haven’t the strength to recount them. Suffice it to say this one really hurts — which stuns me, I’m usually pretty good at keeping these things in perspective (it’s only a game, sports are meaningless entertainment, blah, blah, blah)… I suppose the experience was like reading a great book with a heartbreaking ending, one that just feels wrong.
One bitter irony… Back in 1989 a mediocre Roughrider team managed to win a somewhat flukey Grey Cup largely because they had Dave Ridgway, the best kicker in football (not just the CFL, I mean anywhere). Back then, if the Riders could get the ball past midfield they were nearly certain to come away with at least 3 points, because ‘Robokicker’ almost never missed, even from long range. He nailed the gamewinner in 1989 with two seconds left on the clock. So to lose a game, one in which the Riders were probably the better team, because of a placekicker meltdown feels like a twisted form of cosmic retribution.
Damn, am I glad I ain’t Paul McCallum.
A few random observations:
* I do not understand the appeal of those white balloon-like “thundersticks”. The only noise they make is a hollow tinny thud — clapping your hands makes a louder racket. And don’t try to tell me that they look cool, unless you are generally into inflatable toys.
* BC Place has apparently adopted the European “harm reduction” model to curb alcohol abuse at the games. They sell beer, but at such a high price and with such huge lineups that enjoying a cold frosty means missing long chunks of the game. I’m no supporter of drunken hooliganism in the stands, but I’ll remember the lost revenue the team willingly forfeited the next time they cry poor.
* Most of the anti-Saskatchewan signs in the crowd were dull and vaguely offensive (ie “Lions eat Farmers”), but I thought one epithet was clever: “In BC we smoke the Green.”
* If there’s any difference between the dance moves of the ‘Felions’ cheerleaders and the gyrations on display at a strip bar I’d like to know what it is. (It made me wonder how many strippers get their vocational training on cheerleading squads… or does it work the other way? Or do they carry both gigs at the same time?) I can assure you that the “Gopher Girls” would have put on a more wholesome show had the game been played at Regina’s Taylor Field — if only because they’d be wearing snowmobile suits.
I’ll get over it. Hell, by the time the Grey Cup rolls around I’ll probably be able to cheer the Lions on like a good Vancouverite. But today this just sucks.