Story by Patricia Dawn Robertson
REGINA, SASKATCHEWAN — The magic number in Regina on Sunday night was 45-23. Rider Nation celebrated as their hometown team dominated all four quarters of the 101st Grey Cup to take the CFL championship from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Regina has been under siege since the Grey Cup Festival started last week. The gridiron spectacle was upgraded to Mardi Gras status with green toques serving as carnival attire as Saskatchewan played host with enthusiasm to football-crazed out-of-town guests from across Canada.
You know it’s a good party when there isn’t an empty hotel room to be found in town. In typical prairie fashion, the locals opened up their homes to host the stray fans, myself among them.
Regina’s Feeling a Little Green
For a week, Regina has been vibrating with a green wave of optimism as fans from throughout the province and across the country migrated here to see the Riders fight for their first Grey Cup since 2007 and play in the title game for the first time since 2010, when the team lost for the second straight year to the Montreal Alouettes. Running back Kory Sheets, who set a Grey Cup record with 197 rushing yards, and quarterback Darian Durant led the Roughriders to victory in front of a joyous crowd on Sunday night.
Taylor Field at Mosiac Stadium was a sea of green. Rider fans loaded up on merch and made their way excitedly to their seats with Rider green toques, scarves, jackets, flag capes. The more eccentric among them were dressed as Chewbacca from Star Wars. The women wore glitter wigs and sparkly scarves. Everyone carried a noise maker in order to gleefully distract Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris from doing his job. Every time the Ti-Cats gained possession of the football, the entire stadium taunted: “HENRY, HENRY.”
It had been cold all week for the Grey Cup Festival as fans braved minus-20 Celsius (minus-4 Fahrenheit) temperatures as an Arctic cold front arrived and didn’t depart until game day. The temperature hovered around the freezing mark as The Sheepdogs entertained the fans at the pre-game warm-up.
As sunset arrived, the wind kicked up from the north and fans kept warm as they slammed their bangers (a pair of noisemakers that make a loud bang when bashed together) and hit their cowbells with the intensity of the intro to the Rolling Stones’ “Honkey Tonk Woman.”
Rider Nation kept up the pressure throughout the cold evening and the players delivered in kind. It was an intimidating environment for the visiting team. The entire stadium appeared to be clad in green. A few specks of Hamilton’s trademark black and yellow graced the stands like bumblebees lost in a sea of green.
These Fans Aren’t Missing the Grey Cup
Many CFL fans book their annual travel plans in accordance with the Grey Cup. Fans could be spotted in their Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Montreal Alouettes jackets. Win or lose, the hardcore CFL fans don’t miss a Grey Cup Festival.
The temporary stands at the south end of the field rocked with glee as fans took to their feet every time the Riders scored a touchdown in the first half. Hedley hit the stage with fireworks blazing and cheerleaders rocking out. The crowd stood at attention, dancing and stamping their feet to restore circulation.
Mittens were lined with hot packs and the more hearty fans two-fisted their cold Pilsners. iPhones flashed and danced around the stadium as fans posted selfies on Facebook to document their ecstatic experience. When the Grey Cup was escorted to centre field by the red clad constabulary, the stadium noise hit a crescendo.
After the game, fans took to Albert Street in downtown Regina. The Green Mile, as the thoroughfare is nicknamed, was a happy place as strangers traded high-fives and giggled with delight at their good fortune.
The City of Regina municipal building released a series of green fireworks as fans walked along honking fog horns, hoisting beers and marvelling at their collective good fortune. There were no fist fights, no burning cars and a very small police presence. CFL fans are a good-natured bunch who just love their football. Locals and visitors converged at the Hotel Saskatchewan lobby after the game to warm up. Some rode luggage carts around to celebrate while others stopped to have their photos taken with sportscaster Brian Williams.
It was a happy ending to a week filled with pancake breakfasts, house parties, meet and greets, pre-game concerts and even a play, Rider Girl, by Ottawa playwright Colleen Sutton. After six years, the Grey Cup has returned to Riderville. Regina will likely be sleeping in Monday morning as the town parties late into the night. As Grey Cup Festival’s go, this sodbuster celebration has been epic.