It’s been a long time since I’ve been excited for a Saskatchewan Roughriders game.
A handful of wins over the last two seasons is the easy reason I suppose, but it’s a little more than that for me. It goes back to 2012 when I started covering the team. A peek at the machine behind that big green curtain will do that to a lot of people, I think.
A few years later, when I moved from Regina, I left most of my Rider pride behind. Like any good Sasky transplant, I still fly the colours and I make sure everyone knows where I come from, but cut me open and I doubt I bleed green. I wear my Riders hat when they come to Commonwealth, but my once-beloved Dave Ridgway jersey? Donated to Goodwill. It’s amazing how much you can let go without even really trying.
By now, I have a pretty good idea what the new stadium looks like. When I came home for Christmas, mom and dad made sure to drive me around the outside. I have never been inside, but I’ve seen the tweets, the Snap stories and the Instagram posts.
Between my friends back home and my colleagues in the media, I think every inch of that place has been covered. Really, the only thing I haven’t seen is the bathroom. Any chance there are big round troughs and cold water coming from the taps?
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I’m looking forward to the gates opening for real. I’m legitimately thrilled to see people filling in. I won’t be there, but I’ll make sure I watch. Even now, I can hear Chris Cuthbert describing the buzz in the building (Don’t you dare give us Rod Black).
While I’m watching, there’s a certain kind of fan I’ll be looking for. The ones with the white hair, walking a little slower than the rest. The ones clutching a foam seat cushion wearing a green sweater older than the kids in the university section. Maybe I’ll see someone wearing a hat with shiny pins all over it.
I’ll be looking for these fans because they’re the foundation the stadium is built on. The fans who have always been there. The ones who deserve to enjoy something brand new. I’ll be looking for these fans, because if I look close enough, I’m pretty sure I’ll see my grandma.
My grandma is a real Roughriders fan, though she’s never worn a watermelon and probably never had a Pilsner. She bought her season ticket in the 80s and held them through the 90s and part of the 2000s, too. Top of the second deck on the shady side. It was her and a whole gang from Moose Jaw. My Uncle Jack and Auntie June sat there, Farris Baba just down the row. The Sutherlands sat just in front of grandma; Mr. Sutherland always had his headphones on. He’d get an elbow in the side from his wife whenever someone tried to talk to him. There they were. Every home game. Telethons, raffles and 50/50 tickets, too.
When I was lucky, I got to go to the games with Grandma. I imagine it was when one of the others wasn’t using their ticket. We’d pile three layers of extra clothes into the trunk and sit shoulder-to-shoulder for an hour to get to the game. We’d park as close to the guy riding the buffalo as we could.
Never have I felt so small as I did holding my grandma’s hand, winding through the cars parked on the exhibition grounds, the stadium rising in front of me as we got closer. As long as that walk always felt, the climb to our seats was always longer. Three flights of those winding ramps and a set of some of the steepest stairs you’ll ever find before we finally got there.
You could see the numbers on the jerseys with a good pair of binoculars from those seats. Grandma would roll out a big fuzzy blanket along the metal bleachers and plop a couple of those seat cushions on top. By the time the sun set and the SGI building turned gold, those extra three layers from the trunk came in handy.
Grandma’s purse always had a few treats. Usually red licorice from “The Safeways.” It wasn’t hard to convince her to buy a bag of peanuts from the vendor before halftime. In all those games I went to, I don’t remember the Riders winning even one.
Once my grandma caught me sprawled out on the floor watching a CFL game at home.
“Who are you cheering for?” she asked.
“Calgary, I guess,” I said.
“CALGARY! You can’t cheer for Calgary,” she said.
“B.C. then?” I asked.
“You can’t cheer for them either!”
I didn’t figure that one out until I was older.
My grandma got older too and she had to give up that season ticket. The ramps and stairs were much harder for her than they ever were for me. Still, she didn’t miss a game.
In 1997, I remember her coming over to our house so my mom could paint her face before she went to a Grey Cup party. (Curse you, Flutie). When I moved to California after high school, my grandma would write me letters to tell me about how the Riders were doing. When we talked on the phone in the fall she’d give the recap of the latest game.
Even though I’d read all about these things on the internet already, her analysis was always better.
The weekend I moved to Regina to finish university, my mom called. Grandma wanted to take me to a game. Her season ticket was gone by then, but she found us a couple seats anyway. Labour Day 2007, while my buddies were drinking beer on the sunny side, I watched one of the best classics ever played with my grandma. On the shady side, second deck, near the top. You know the play, Kerry Joseph 30 yards for the win. Grandma was screaming “Touchdown!” before he even hit the 10.
It’s forever my favourite game and the last one we watched there together.
The Riders won the Grey Cup later that fall. I drank beer with my buddies and partied on Albert Street all night long. I should have called my grandma.
We watched a lot more football after that. But it was always from home.
The last time I saw my grandma, she was in the hospital and she was furious. The Roughriders were playing and her room had no TV. She sat upright in bed cursing the nurses more than she ever cursed Doug Flutie. This time it was me who provided the analysis. I read her the updates as they refreshed on my phone. With 43 seconds left in the game, Durant to Dressler put the Riders up by one. My grandma put her head back on her pillow, closed her eyes and crossed her fingers.
She stayed that way until a few minutes after the game was finished. It took me that long to tell her.
“Grandma, the game is over,” I said. “Paul McCallum kicked a field goal. B.C. won.”
She kept her eyes closed. She sunk into that pillow a little further and let out a big sigh, just like the ones I’d heard in the stands many times before. Then she uncrossed her fingers with a snap and hardly said another word.
Five days after that she died. Darian Durant was mentioned twice at her funeral.
The Riders won the Grey Cup later that fall. I was there.
I got dropped off early at the Exhibition Grounds so I could walk to the stadium. Never has it felt so small. When I got there, I took three flights of those winding ramps and another set of stairs to the top of the second deck on the shady side. I didn’t stay there long, just enough to get a good look.
My grandma is a real Roughriders fan, just like all those other ones with white hair who will be coming through the gates on Saturday. Those are the ones I’ll be watching for. The ones who earned it. I know I won’t see my grandma in the crowd, but I’ll look for her anyway. She wouldn’t miss this one.
She’s got a new seat now, one that likely doesn’t need binoculars. As for me, I probably won’t even watch the game. I’d rather wait and have her tell me about it later. Her analysis is always better.
Kent Morrison is an anchor and reporter for Global Edmonton, and grew up in Moose Jaw, Sask.