GREY CUP WEEK AT THE LEGION: PART FIVE
When you become a fan of the Saskatchewan Roughriders you become a fan for life. Win or lose, come what may in your own life, you stick with them.
Nothing they or you will ever do breaks the bond of loyalty and affection. Like the place they come from, every heartbreak is immediately healed by the knowledge that next year, next time, things will turn out better.
Last year, in the dying seconds of one of the greatest Grey Cups ever played, on what should have been the final play, the Riders snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by having too many men on the field.
Their legendary secret weapon, "the 13th man", the term that has always been used to describe the passionate power of their fans was suddenly made flesh in Calgary's McMahon Stadium and the coveted Cup was lost.
In other places there would have been cries for retribution and the portioning out of blame. Not in Saskatchewan.
Nobody named the player who screwed up. And nobody cared. Because there was always next year.
The year everything will be made right.
And if it isn't…
There is next year and the year after that. The sunrise in Saskatchewan comes at the end of a long fuse. Light is in the sky for hours before any ball of fire actually appears. But it always gets there eventually.
You can count on it.
Rumor has it that the team has concocted a secret ritual to make sure that they are never again penalized for having too many men on the field. They will carry a single 12 pack of Pilsner into each huddle. Any player leaving the huddle without a beer in his hand then knows he must immediately get off the field.
See, we're already able to laugh at the whole thing. "Team Redeem"? Please. The boys have nothing to apologize for. What's past is past. We're looking to the future.
And the Saskatchewan Roughriders stepped into a different form of the future before anybody else this season by becoming the first CFL team to develop their own iPhone App, available for free from the iTunes store.
It was another way to reward fans for their loyalty and dedication, by making everything Roughrider as close as their finger tips.
Turn on your mobile device, tap the screen a couple of times, you've got the roster, injury reports, the weather at game time, heck you can even access the team's twitter feed.
Information is updated almost instantly on game day. You can find out who was in on the last sack and link to photos, video and audio. It's like having the broadcast booth color commentator in your pocket or the ultimate arbitrator for bar bets.
When I first moved from Saskatchewan to Toronto, the allegiance the Riders had fostered in me for the CFL made me feel obligated to go see a Toronto Argonaut game. The stadium was twice the size of the Regina's Taylor Field. The football was just as exciting.
But at one point, the fans began to Boo the home team. I was shocked. The thought that any fan could do that to his own astonished me.
Years later, I had the good fortune to cadge a seat for a Toronto Maple Leafs game in the row behind the Air Canada Centre's legendary Platinum seats which only the rich and connected who run the city can afford. The gentleman in front of me spent the entire game talking to the players on the ice (who could easily hear him from that distance) as if they were nine year olds still learning the game.
His voice dripped with arrogance and condescension and petulant dissatisfaction. It's little wonder that an atmosphere like that has never spawned a champion.
In Saskatchewan, the fans expect that the guys on the field know what they're doing and they roll with the occasional (or sometimes frequent) brain fart. They know they're there because of the players and the players are what they are because of them.
Feel free to download the Saskatchewan App and become a Rider fan this weekend. Just understand it's going to become a lifetime commitment and there's no going back.
But you'll also be part of something unique in sport and special in life. And that's a good thing.