Gauntlet Sportspinions

By Derek Neumeier

They are the many, the proud and the blindly faithful. Dressed head-to-toe in anything and everything green, more outspoken and intoxicated than your average sports fan, which is saying a lot. Their devotion is unhindered by logic, reason, or even the inability to speak sentences more articulate than a simple, “Woo!” Love them or hate them, you sure as hell can’t ignore them. Yes, you all know who I’m talking about: they are the fans of the Canadian Football League’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.

There is no fan-base in Canadian sports more notorious than that of the Rider-priders, which is almost baffling, considering the team’s consistently awful play. Despite Saskatchewan’s lack of a Grey Cup victory for the past 239-or-so-odd years–or so I’m sure it feels like to the Roughrider faithful–the fans remain unwaveringly dedicated and optimistic that every passing year will be “their year,” regardless of how badly the on-field performances resemble the Shrine Circus.

Case in point is Saturday’s 44-22 defeat at the hands of the hometown Calgary Stampeders. Judging by the McDonald’s and the bar by McMahon Stadium I visited right after the game ended, you never would have been able to tell the Riders lost, because both buildings were engulfed by a sea of laughing, happy green-goers. I also had no luck engaging in reasonable discussion with them, as my arguments about the Stamps’ dominance and hard-earned victory fell upon deaf, ignorant ears. It was frustrating, to say the least and I can’t imagine how it would have been if Saskatchewan would have actually won.

Now, before I go any further, let me clear something up here: I, like the Rider-priders, am a proud, red-blooded Saskatchewanian, born and bred. I know how to drive a combine, I spent most of my high school weekends at bush parties, and damn anyone that disagrees, it’s called a bunnyhug and always will be. I’m also a devout sports enthusiast. It would seem like the two things would go hand-in-hand to make me a Roughrider fan but, unlike my provincial brethren, I refuse to don the green and white in support of that comedic troupe disguised as a sports team.

Why? Firstly, the franchise is just awful and always has been, and secondly, because I like choice. I don’t want to cheer for a team just because there’s a local lack of competition to cheer for. Albertans are lucky: Edmonton-Calgary rivalry aside, you still have four celebrated sports teams–Flames, Oilers, Eskimos, and Stampeders–within the borders of your province to root for and the choice to support the ones that you enjoy best. One even gets their choice of sport to be interested in.

For those who hail from Saskatchewan, that option is lost to you. However, that doesn’t stop Roughrider fans from assuming that you share their limitless devotion because of your provincial heritage and belittling you when you don’t. A Rider-hater from Saskatchewan like me is about as common as an Albertan NDP supporter and much more likely to be burned at the stake for football heresy. It’s like an authoritarian sort of cult, really, and I for one don’t want to drink any suspicious green Rider Kool-Aid.

The scariest part is that the Riders are actually doing really well so far this year. The team currently has a 7-4 record, one point behind the B.C. Lions for leaders in the West and seems to have all the tools to make a strong playoff push. If the Rider-priders remained dedicated through years of mediocrity, imagine what will happen if the team actually does well. The number of Rider fans in Calgary already challenges the number of Stamps fans for popularity dominance and some actual success would surely put the Saskies well ahead.

While I remain steadfast with my belief that the Riders will eventually blow it down the stretch like they do every year, part of me is worried that the 7-4 start isn’t just a fluke. I’ve made my distaste for the Cult-riders no secret in the past and just barely escaped from Saskatchewan with my head intact because of it. I found a semi-safe haven here in Calgary ever since, but the current CFL season has the potential to drastically increase the number of Rider-priders and expose me once again as the provincial traitor that I am. Until that happens though, I’m going to continue keeping a low profile with my fingers crossed and pray that hockey season–and the city-wide support of the Flames taking priority over the Stamps, Riders, and even God–comes much sooner than it normally does this year.