May 3, 2016

BLOG: A Long-standing Rivalry

By Darren Cameron

When the CFL schedule first came out back in February, it was hard not to look at the opening weekend and get excited.

Yes, the start of every new season brings on that same feeling, but heading into such a hornet’s nest as Mosaic Stadium in Regina in week 1 brings an entirely different level of excitement. These two clubs, as we all know, have a long-standing rivalry that usually gets revved up come Labour Day weekend.

This year, we get the treat of experiencing the Pilsner-fueled Regina faithful on CFL Kickoff weekend.

The storylines are there: Five players who we will bring to Saskatchewan Friday afternoon have ties to the Roughriders. When I asked them through text this morning to share their thoughts into on how they feel about the upcoming weekend, the words ‘excited’, ‘amped’, and ‘back to where it all started’ came flying back.

Coach Hall replied, “I’m just excited. Kind of the same feeling I had to start training camp. It’s going to be fun.”

We will touch down in Regina just after 3:00 p.m. local time on Friday, and the following 36 hours will be a whirlwind. The team will head to the hotel, while Coach O’Shea, a few players and myself will head to Mosaic Stadium to meet with the assembled media. Even upon arrival, we’re sure to run into a few dozen Rider fans roaming around the facility, waiting to welcome us with open arms.

Once the interviews are finished, we will head over to the hotel where coaches, players and staff will head their separate ways for dinner. 

Now don’t get me wrong, Bomber fans are passionate, loud and knowledgeable, and we wouldn’t trade them for the world. But Saskatchewan fans, they’re on another level. It’s not just how loud they get as T.I.’s ‘Bring Em Out’ blares throughout the stadium and their beloved Riders enter the field; it’s the environment as a whole. It’s what every football-craved city should be like, even if it means having to take extra measures on our end to ensure everything runs smoothly (in no other city do we have two hotel room floors blocked off, with security on both floors).

Last season, as a few of us, including Head Coach Mike O’Shea, left the hotel the day before a game, a truck with probably seven people in the cab whizzed by and shouted obscenities at our group. The taunting is endless, but it’s awesome. It’s the Italian Star Deli down the street from the hotel, so popular with CFL teams, or the one steakhouse most teams frequent the night before a game, but Equipment Manager Brad Fotty refuses to step foot in (he had a hair in his steak ten years ago – hasn’t forgotten about it since). But most of all, it’s the green. Everywhere.

The pre-game in Regina is always something to marvel at. And once the team returns inside the locker room under the stands packed with thousands of excited fans, the locker room almost shakes. Players love it. This is the type of atmosphere anyone with a competitive bone in his body enjoys. And how about the hundreds of Bomber fans who make the trip down the highway? They are usually all grouped in a section over our right shoulder on our sidelines. And every year, despite the struggles, they are there and despite being surrounded by Rider fans, they make their presence felt. Often times our players will acknowledge them before the game begins – all part of the madhouse.

During our daily briefing yesterday I mentioned to Mike that the club hasn’t won in Regina since 2004. Not to remind him of bad memories, but just to ensure he knew that stat as most media would likely bring it up anyways.

He looked at me like I had five heads.

He calmly retorted, “Does that matter to us?”. The answer, of course, is absolutely not. Streaks are of note to many, but not internally to team management and personnel. How long it’s been since you last won somewhere doesn’t even cross into the minds of players or coaches. But that said, it sure would be a great start to the season coming out of there with a win.

Looking forward to seeing all the Bomber fans in Regina this weekend. Drive safe!