The Rouge: Why is Rider Nation so passionate?

Paul Hoogkamp,
7/19/2010 10:57:09 PM
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The Saskatchewan Roughriders are celebrating their centennial season this year and many events are scheduled in Regina and throughout the province.

But the Roughriders are celebrated throughout the league and across the country each and every week during the CFL season as members of Rider Nation can be found from coast to coast to coast.

What is it about this team that makes fans drive for hours to watch a game at Mosaic Stadium? Why are there pockets of green in the stands at every road game? Why is Rider Nation so passionate?

In baseball, there are Yankees fans all over the world. But they've won 27 World Series titles so it's understandable. In hockey, the Montreal Canadiens have fans in every NHL arena. But they have won 24 Stanley Cup titles so, again, it's understandable.

In the CFL, every existing team has won more Grey Cups than the Roughriders, yet there is no team that has a more fervent following than those with the wheat sheaf on their helmets. Three Grey Cups in 100 years while playing in a league that has rarely had more than 10 teams would not appear to be a recipe to build a healthy fan base.

Yet, stories of fans having season tickets for generations and driving from around the province of Saskatchewan to follow the Riders are commonplace. One such fan is TSN's own Darren Dutchyshen.

Dutchyshen is a Saskatchewan native who knows what it's like to drive 3-4 hours from Porcupine Plain to Regina to watch the Riders. As a child, he would sit in the back of a motor home while the fathers sat up front, talking about the team, the players and the rest of the league. 

''It's the only pro team we have and, while there are rivalries throughout the province, it's the one uniting force,'' said Dutchyshen. ''If you are born in or grow up in Saskatchewan, you cheer for the Riders.

''It's a hard-working, honest and tough province and football is a hard-working honest and tough game. There are no shortcuts and I think most Saskatchewanites relate to that. We love our team because it's our team. We may be small with just over 1 million people in the province but bring on the Argos and Lions and every other team. Let's snap the ball and play some smash-mouth football.''

CFL on TSN analyst Glen Suitor had the good fortune of playing for the Roughriders and winning a Grey Cup in 1989. His CFL dream was to play for his hometown Lions but once he was drafted by the Roughriders and arrived in Regina, that all changed.

''When I was first drafted, I was pumped to be picked to play on any team and initially thought that if all went well, I would eventually try and get back to BC if possible,'' said Suitor. ''But within a month of stepping off the plane in that province, I didn't want to go anywhere.

''Saskatchewan loves their team like parents love their kids. They can be cross with them when they are bad but never waver from their love and support for them at any time and are always completely involved and engaged with their growth and development. They care about their team even in the tough times.''

Suitor points out that football is more than just a game in Saskatchewan and admits the experience of playing there has had an enormous impact on his life.

''Playing there is not about celebrity, it is about becoming part of a community whose football team is part of the culture,'' said Suitor. ''Of all the athletes that have been fortunate enough to play professional football in the country, I truly believe that I'm one of the luckiest because I got to play in Saskatchewan.''

Roughriders fullback Chris Szarka is a shining example of how much the players get involved in the community. Last fall, the Vancouver native won a seat on Regina city council and he continues to the play for the team.

So how and when does one become a member of RiderNation? Murray McCormick, who follows the Roughriders as a reporter for the Regina Leader-Post, says the support of the team goes from cradle to grave. 

''Roughriders' fans aren't made, they're born,'' McCormick told ''There are countless pictures of babies born in Saskatchewan dressed in the green and white of the Roughriders. Those kids grow into full-blown fans who graduate to watermelons on their heads and regularly filling Mosaic Stadium on a game-by-game basis.

''Then they conclude their life-long passion for the Riders with a line or two in their obituaries. It's the cycle of green and white.''

As a resident of Saskatchewan who travels across the league, McCormick understands why the enduring support of the Riders may be a mystery to those who live outside the prairie province.

''You have to live in Saskatchewan to understand what the Riders mean to this province because outsiders don't get how one team can dominate a provincial sports scene,'' added McCormick.

I was fortunate enough to attend the 2007 Grey Cup in Toronto where the Roughriders defeated the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and experienced firsthand what the Saskatchewan fans bring to the table. From the minute I arrived in the city until I left hours after the game, the fans in green and white were the life of the party and the Grey Cup was better for it.

Once in the Rogers Centre that day, more than half the crowd was decked out in the unmistakable Roughrider Green so I can attest to the fact that Riders' fans will travel many miles to show their support for the team.

The question is: Why? What makes their fans more connected to their team than any other in the CFL and maybe all of pro sports?

You've heard from a former resident, a former player and current reporter. Now we want your thoughts. Why is Rider Nation so passionate?

Rider Nation (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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