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They were the first CFL team I ever watched live.
It was the summer of 1999 and a live football game was among the many exhilarating new things I was experiencing in my first year of truly living + working on my own in Vancouver, away from my Toronto family.
When you watch the Saskatchewan Roughriders, you must do it with a Rider fan.
Our group was fortunate to have one. A big one. Literally.
Our buddy Pat was a big Saskatchewan boy, 6’5″ and 200+ lbs.
We threw a flesh-coloured skull cap on him and green-markered some stuff on it.
At the time, I barely realized his other option was wearing a watermelon on his head.
During the game, Pat was nearly alone cheering for the visiting Roughriders in a sea of BC Lions fans.
But he sure hit it off with the buck-toothed other Rider fan 10 rows up.
It was rivalry with a tinge of not-too-serious to it. While we joked about getting beat up for cheering on the visitors, we were never in real danger. I don’t think.
This is the overall spirit of rivalry, one that never trumps our camaraderie as Canadians and nice human beings, which is the ideal heart of a thing like the Grey Cup, the big prize of the Canadian Football League (CFL) to be contested this Sunday. The Canadian-ness of how our league plays American football is illustrated whimsically in this 30′ Adidas spot:
Little did I know when I watched that game 14 years ago that I’d have the privilege several years after that game to live and work in Saskatchewan.
And to work in the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ ad agency.
That happened to work on ads for the entire CFL the year I was there.
It was great to be inside the thinktank for the football team, and to understand what the deal is with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
One neat way to think of it is this: the Saskatchewan Roughriders are the CFL equivalent of the Dallas Cowboys of the NFL. I know the analogy is really meaningless to most non-sports-fans, but the parallel is that the Dallas Cowboys are an icon in their league.
They’re always a solid team and a legitimate playoff contender.
And there’s something iconic about their look (in Dallas’s case, the single star and the cheerleaders’ story are part of their legend).
For Saskatchewan (and likely Dallas too) the province has exported so many expats who’ve remained loyal to their home team that they always have a solid fanbase, even as the visiting team.
SK didn’t have any other pro sports team, so the Riders were it. And everyone got behind them: men, women, young and old.
One solid result is that Roughriders merch outsells all other CFL teams’ merch, combined.
That’s some of the logic explanation of Rider Pride, but like any fanaticism, there’s an element that goes beyond explanation too.
There’s just something about those Riders, that green, that team.
And playing in front of their home crowd this Sunday will be the culmination of the weeklong party I know they’re having out there in SK. Wish I could be there.
For your listening pleasure, here’s a CFL spot I wrote while Regina was my hometown.
Oh yeah. The other team in the 101st Grey Cup is the Hamilton TigerCats.
Also a good team, and sporting the Riders’ former QB, and their old head coach.
But they’re no Saskatchewan Roughriders.
So now what do we have to say for ourselves?…
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Lam Tang, Principal, ThatGuyWriting Brand Consultancy