While the Grey Cup final remains Canadian football’s main event, many CFL fans — especially on the prairies — are equally invested in the result of an otherwise inconspicuous mid-season game: the annual Labour Day Classic between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of Bomber fans will be hitting the road for the almost six-hour drive to Regina this long weekend to support the blue and gold in enemy territory.
It’s an experience that one longtime fan says gives him ‘chills’ when thinking about it.
Jason Bond, who attends football games in character as “the Golden Boy”, is one superfan who has been making the trip to the Riders’ home of Mosaic Stadium for years.
“I started way back in the early 2000s. This is my 16th Labour Day trip, and it is what I consider my Christmas weekend,” Bond told 680 CJOB’s The Start.
“It’s so much fun going out there with all the Blue Bomber fans and meeting up with our rivals. The first night you’re there, it’s just a sea of blue, and then when you get there on game day, you’re entering the enemy stadium… when you start walking into the sea of green, you get chills down your spine.”
Bond isn’t the only Bombers fan who takes the team’s gold colour to the extreme. Going by the name “Goldmember”, Adam Carriere says he’s been attending the Labour Day Classic for two decades now, and he’s never regretted it, despite being vastly outnumbered by green-clad Riders fans supporting the home team every year.
“Everyone’s friendly, and if you’re a lover of football, you’ll just love the whole atmosphere — it’s ultimately like an American college atmosphere,” he told The Start.
“Regina does a great job of putting on a good show and taking care of us, making sure we’re having a good time.”
Sports psychology consultant Stephen Dubienski says that feeling of being outnumbered by the opposing team’s crowd can serve to ramp up Winnipeg fans’ passion — and volume — in support of the Bombers at the game.
“It definitely gets heated. Football’s an extremely emotional game. It’s a contact sport, and there’s no fanbases more invested in their team than Saskatchewan and Winnipeg,” he said.
“What we’ve seen with the Bombers is they’ve attracted a lot of a younger fanbase now that are making that road trip out there — maybe not necessarily to see the game but to take in that atmosphere, the tailgating. Those Bombers fans and the Saskatchewan fans, I don’t think there’s too much love between them, so hopefully they can keep that mature levelheadedness about them.”
Dubienski said the hostile environment at a game with such a strong rivalry can affect the players too, but his impression in recent years is that Bombers coaches and on-field leaders have done an excellent job of keeping an even keel — a key to their success of late.
“They stay focused. They don’t really let it get to them, but it’s human nature. They thrive off it. They’re going to definitely feed off it. It’s definitely a game that they mark on their calendars,” he said.
“They get up for this game. It’s human nature to see the crowd, to see the rivalry, the players know what’s going on, what’s at stake, and there’s definitely a little extra behind everything they do.”
On Monday, the Bombers are looking to pull off a third consecutive Labour Day Classic victory, having won the past two games, but beyond those two victories, the game’s recent history hasn’t been kind to the blue and gold, with the Bombers only winning one Labour Day game between 2005-2019.
Once the game is over and the Bombers faithful have returned to Manitoba, they won’t have long to wait for a rematch, as another CFL tradition unfolds just a week later: the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg, featuring the same two teams.