The west is wildest when Regina cries GO, RIDERS, GO!

When the Saskatchewan Roughriders play a home game it's the maddest, lung-busting town meeting this side of Bedlam (and there's some pretty good action on the field, too). Root for any side you like, stranger, just so long as it's the Riders

JOHN ROBERTSON August 6 1966

The west is wildest when Regina cries GO, RIDERS, GO!

When the Saskatchewan Roughriders play a home game it's the maddest, lung-busting town meeting this side of Bedlam (and there's some pretty good action on the field, too). Root for any side you like, stranger, just so long as it's the Riders

JOHN ROBERTSON August 6 1966

The west is wildest when Regina cries GO, RIDERS, GO!

When the Saskatchewan Roughriders play a home game it's the maddest, lung-busting town meeting this side of Bedlam (and there's some pretty good action on the field, too). Root for any side you like, stranger, just so long as it's the Riders

JOHN ROBERTSON

WHAT STARTED OUT as a perfect August evening for watching football at Regina's Taylor Field unexpectedly turned (unexpectedly, that is, for visiting fans unfamiliar with Regina's weather) into a cloudburst.

Barrie Williams, covering his first Regina game as a football writer of the Hamilton Spectator, leaned out the press box window to see how many of the 15.000 unsheltered fans had resisted the urge to flee. None had moved. With the Saskatchewan Roughriders hanging onto the leading end of a 5-3 score in the third period, the fans, oblivious to the downpour, were gargling their team sell. "Go, Riders, Go! ’

“Are they crazy?" Williams asked me incredulously.

"Some of them probably are," 1 assured him on the basis of knowledge gained from covering Regina football. ''Some of them are stoned. And the others just don't care as long as the Riders are winning."

In the fourth quarter the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who had been fruitlessly trying to run holes in

a 45-m.p.h. wind, switched ends eagerly to get their backs to the gale. But suddenly the storm reversed direction, as if on cue. until it faced the visitors squarely again. It ultimately reached such velocity that they couldn't have moved the ball, even if the Riders had vacated the field.

The game ended 5-3.

Afterward, we watched the fans make their first move for shelter. They resembled stragglers from a high-society poolside party in which everyone had gone off the deep end. Some of the younger men had removed their shirts. And the chic summer fashions hung limply on the women, like old bird-cage covers. Barrie Williams stow'ed his dripping portable in its case, shook his head, and stomped out into the rain.

1 knew he was already conjuring an appropriate lead for his story, or I would have called him back to relate what General Manager Herb Capozzi of the British Columbia Lions had sait! on his last visit to Regina, when someone asked him how he had found Taylor Field: "1 looked it up in the yellow pages . . . under outdoor insane asylums ...”

It was not that much of an exaggeration. From the standpoint of depth, agility, versatility, belligerent loyalty and raw lung power, the rah-rah raunchies who threaten to split Taylor Field at the seams at every home game, are just about the hairiest fans on the continent. They wedge shoulder to shoulder in every available cranny bordering the field, and if the odd foot happens to extend into the playing area—well, that's showbusiness.

Lately, there have been signs that creeping dignity is eroding some of the splendid atavism. That grassy haven between the bleachers and the playing field has been declared out of bounds to the thousands of fans who used to camp there with all the frenzied bias of a lynch mob. On occasion when a play would spill over into the sidelines, these rabid Rider fans had shown an alarming tendency to give only their own players back. So this year, using as an excuse the 3,300-seat extension of the east grandstand, the lawn has been ordered cleared. And somehow, Taylor Field won't seem the same again.

But one thing will never change—the eerie, funereal pall that envelopes the place whenever “the other guys" score a touchdown. It becomes so quiet you can hear the referee's arm-bones click as he reaches skyward to signal the score. However, the general mood is usually a giddy type of insanity, madcap to be sure, but with more warmth than waspishness, because the highly infectious football fever that grips not only Regina, but all of southern Saskatchewan, is born of a glad-to-be-here feeling. The populace knows that a city of 125,000 should not be expected to survive in the ever-escalating economic warfare called professional football. But the Roughriders have survived since 1910. And when the club teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in 1960. with a deficit of $80.000, it was salvaged by a lapelseizing form of the hard sell which shook the

natives with this realistic threat: “Can you im-

agine living here without pro football?” Apparently few could, because since 1960 the Riders have flourished both competitively and financially. I heir bank balance is rumored to be close to $250,000, but when I asked one official for a more explicit figure, he said, “Look, let’s not louse up this ‘Poor Little Regina' image. The people might get the idea we don't need them as much now.”

It was not an idle assessment, when you consider that the Riders filled Taylor Field to 117 percent of its seating capacity last year, and only managed to make a profit of $16,000. But statistics hardly explain why the natives of Regina and southern Saskatchewan get so demonstrative about their football.

For instance, could you fathom 3.000 ecstatic Toronto fans jumping into their cars and driving all the way to Toronto's International Airport, well after midnight, just to smother the Argos with huzzahs because they had won a routine league game? Or what would possibly motivate $.000 people to journey down to the Regina telegraph office to affix their names to a good-luck wire prior to an out-of-town playoff game? That only cost each supporter a dime. But at the other extreme. 900 fans paid $100 apiece to attend the club's booster dinner last year. An average of $75.000 is raised each season in various promo-

tional gimmicks and hat-passing binges that keep Saskatchewan in professional football.

A newcomer to Regina quickly realizes that he really doesn't have much choice but to support the Riders, because his boss—no matter where he works—is probably a member of one of the countless Roughrider executive committees. I once received a phone call at my sports desk at the Regina Leader-Post, from a man who had just been transferred into town. ‘‘1 got a note from my boss this morning saying that I had 30 days to apply for government auto insurance, 45 days to register for medicare, and 60 days to get my Roughrider season tickets. I checked around the office and was told that the boss was a pretty understanding guy. He'd probably give me an advance if 1 was fined for not registering my car. And he'd even give me a week's holidays if 1 was jailed for not paying my medicare. But he didn't want any part of any salesman who couldn't talk football with his customers.”

Season tickets are much, much more than just a status symbol in Regina, because they range from SI 4 to $42 and are within reach of everybody. In

1963 team executive Jay Brown introduced a novel easy-payment plan whereby a fan could pay for his season tickets at any bank, drug store or place where utility bills are accepted, and he could name his own terms. In many cases, office employees enroll in payroll-deduction plans.

For the absentminded, the club launches a massive telephone blitz each spring. Some years ago, so the story goes, a Rider telephone solicitor called a woman to ask why she hadn’t renewed her pair of season tickets.

“I'm sorry,” she said. “But my husband passed away several months ago.”

"Gee, that’s too bad,” said the caller. “But just a minute. We have another woman whose husband died recently. How would you like to double up with her this season?”

“That would be wonderful,” she replied. “I haven't missed a game in 1 1 years, and I was going to stay home rather than go alone.”

The unique part of Regina's football fever is that every time the club officials try to ram a certain project down their throats, the fans seem to open wider and beg for more. From Rider President Don MacDonald right down to the grade-school toddlers who pay $4 for kids’ season tickets, everyone is sincerely convinced that he or she owns a piece of the action. And this is why their fervor mushrooms into a wacky crescendo every time the gates / continued on page 24

GO, RIDERS, GO continued from pune 20

“Yea Stamps,” shouted the visitor — and the roof fell in

(he gates are opened at Taylor Field.

One night I asked Charlie Underhill. the stadium's ticket custodian, just how many people were in the park. 1 had estimated US,()()(). and there were only 14,000 seats. “We'll never know. John bain,” he grinned. “1 he only guy we've turned away is the fire marshal. If he sees this, he'll die.”

Up in the press box, a Winnipeg football writer had his own theory on how tti count the attendance. Inhaling the rum-flavored aroma that wafted up from the stands, he said, “All they have to do is count the bottles and multiply by two.”

Among Taylor Field's natural hazards is cheering for the visiting team.

One Calgary Stampeder fan buttonholed me on the street the morning after a game and lisped through broken teeth that he would never return to Taylor Field. “I was cheering for the Stamps." he said, “and aside from one guy pouring his coffee down my neck. 1 survived the first half okay. Then I made the mistake

of going to the washroom at half time. I'm in this cubicle minding my own business, when someone next door shouts, ‘Yea Roughies.* So I give with a ‘Yea Stamps.' and next thing 1 know, two guys burst in, grab me by the heels and try to drown me. Then they stand me up and punch me in the mouth.

“I stagger outside and collar the nearest cop.”

“1 guess he fixed them,” I said.

"Hell, he took one look at my cowboy hat and ribbons and arrested me for being drunk and disorderly.”

Taylor Field partisanship knows no bounds, especially when the BC Lions come to town. The Lions arc the rich kids of the Western Football Conference, and they never cease to brag — even about their humility. Lions General Manager Herb Capozzi usually starts it off by saying that every time he wants to discipline a player he threatens to trade him to Regina.

But there are ways of getting even. The Lions arrived early one evening and went straight to Taylor Field for a practice, only to find the gates locked. No one, it seemed, had the authority to open up for them, or to turn on the lights. Finally, after phoning all over town, the Lions had to settle for practising across the street from the Hotel Saskatchewan, in Victoria Park, an unlighted area adorned by monuments and criss-crossed by sidewalks. Midway through this unhappy workout the coach was seen shaking his fist at a clutch of birds in a nearby elm tree, shouting. “Go ahead — everyone else around here does.”

Perhaps the most moving moment in the history of Taylor Field was that frigid November evening in 1963 when the Riders staged their miracle comeback from a 26-point deficit, to oust the Calgary Stampeders from the Western Conference playoffs. They had dropped the opening game of the total-point scries 35-9 in Calgary. And two nights later, when it resumed in Regina, only 10,000 shivering supporters turned out to watch what would surely be another rout. The 26-point lead seemed insurmountable — more than four converted touchdowns.

But Bob Shaw, head coach at the time, decided to gamble on a sleeper play the first time Riders got the ball. On the first play, then-halfback Ray Purdin stayed out of the huddle and “hid” himself right in front of the Calgary bench. But the fans were screaming so loudly the Calgary coaching staff couldn’t alert their defensive unit. Rider quarterback Ron Lancaster tossed to Purdin who jogged down the sidelines unmolested. By half-time the deficit had been reduced from 26 points to 10 anti suddenly from the press box. all you could see throughout the city were streams of car headlights heading toward the stadium. By

“If we won a Cup, what could we give them for an encore?”

the fourth quarter, at least 6.000 latecomers had scrambled through the gates, and when Rider fullback George Reed clawed his way over the goalline for the winning touchdown in the dying minutes, the people were still streaming into the park.

"The fans did it." bubbled Bob Shaw. "Those wacky wonderful fans. Did you hear ’em? We just couldn't let those people down."

In upward of 60 years of trying the Riders have never managed to win a Grey Cup. “Maybe it would be the worst thing that could happen here." says veteran Rider executive Clair Warner. "What could we give them for an encore?"

At present, it costs the Riders about $700.000 a year to stay in business. Their average attendance of 16.000 per game works out to close to 1 30,000 people per season, more than the equivalent of Regina's total population. Using population as a yardstick. Toronto and Montreal would have to draw two million fans apiece in one season to equal Regina's fan support.

The Roughriders are community owned, a situation that has not always turned out happily in other Canadian cities. But Reginans work very hard at it. Club executives pay their own wav on road trips, and even to league meetings. A squad of doctors donate their services, even free surgery.

When I first arrived in Regina in 1963, I soon WTIS made aware that nobody is exempt from pitching in and that few want to be. General Manager Ken Preston invited me to the chib's dressing room to inspect some renovations. We could hardly squeeze in the door for cinder blocks.

mortar bags and wallboard. I was halfway past the supplies when he tapped me on the shoulder and said. "Hey. grab an end-—this stuff has to go upstairs." So up we stumbled, groaning as the plywood bit into our fingers. At the top. Preston led me into a shower room which was done rusticallv in Earh American corroded tin.

"We're retiling all this." he said, beaming. 1 was about to start rolling up my sleeves when he added, in a few days."

"What outfit's doing all this work?" 1 asked.

"The players." he answered, pointing to the freshly mortared partitions and the gleaming new coaches' quar-

tors paneled in imitation oak. "They conte up in the afternoons, when they're not working."

"Do you pay them?" 1 asked. He pointed to a row of empty beer bottles. "So this was what they meant when they called it socialized football.’'' 1 said, trying to conceal my astonishment at the ingenuity of the entire operation.

He turned and looked me squarely in the eye. "The hard way." he said, "is better than no wa\ at all." ★