Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How to Go to a Saskatchewan Roughriders Game

This past Thursday, the Saskatchewan Roughriders opened the Canadian Football League season by losing 17-16 to the Montreal Alouettes in Montreal. This Saturday, they play their home opener, against the arch-rivals, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

This also completes a part of my project: I wanted to do a Trip Guide for a sports team in all 50 American States and all 10 Canadian Provinces. I have now done all the Provinces. The States? 34 down, 16 to go.

Before You Go. This is Canada, the Great White North, but it will also be Summer, so you don't have to worry about the cold. The local newspaper, the Regina Leader-Post, is predicting temperatures to be in the low 70s in daylight, and in the high 40s at night. So you should bring a jacket, but not a winter jacket.

Being in a foreign country has its particular challenges -- and, yes, for all its similarities to America, Canada is still a foreign country. Make sure you call your bank and tell them you're going. After all, Canada may be an English-speaking country (at least co-officially, with French), and a democracy (if a parliamentary one), and a country with teams in America's major leagues, but it is still a foreign country. If your bank gets a record of your ATM card making a withdrawal from any country other than the U.S., it may freeze the card, and any other accounts you may have with them. So be sure to let them know that you will, in fact, be in Canada for a little while.

As of June 1, 2009, you have to have a valid, up-to-date passport to cross the U.S.-Canadian border. You should also bring your driver's license (or other State-issued photo ID). If you don't have a valid passport, you will need a valid photo ID and a copy of your birth certificate. This is not something you want to mess with. Canadian Customs officials do not fuck around: They care about their national security, too.

Do yourself another big favor: Change your money before you go. There are plenty of currency exchanges in New York City, including one on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenue. There are also a few in New Jersey: Travelex has exchange centers at Newark Liberty International Airport, and at 4 malls: Garden Sate Plaza in Paramus, Jersey Gardens in Elizabeth, Menlo Park Mall in Edison and Bridgewater Commons. 

Leave yourself $50 in U.S. cash, especially if you're going other than by plane, so you'll have cash on your side of the border. I was actually in Montréal on the day when it most favored the U.S.: January 18, 2002, $1.60 to $1.00 in our favor. As of Sunday night, June 25, US$1.00 = C$1.33, and C$1.00 = US 75 cents.

My suggestion is that, when you first get your money changed before you begin your trip, ask for $1 coins but no $2 coins. It's just simpler. I like Canada a lot, but their money, yikes, eh?

Regina is in the Mountain Time Zone, 2 hours behind New York. Adjust your timepieces accordingly. And this is very important: If you need to go to the bathroom, don't ask anyone where the "bathroom" is. Ask for the "washroom."

Tickets. Last season, the Roughriders averaged 31,327 fans per home game, about 94 percent of capacity. Getting tickets could be difficult. In the lower level, midfield seats are $98, sideline seats are $83, and end zone seats are $32. In the upper level, midfield seats are $67, and corner seats are $43. Those prices are in Canadian dollars.

Getting There. It's 1,942 miles from Midtown Manhattan to Regina, the capital of the Province of Saskatchewan, and the home of the Roughriders. It's 101 miles from Regina to the closest U.S.-Canada Border crossing, at Raymond, Montana. At first glance, flying would seem like the best way to get there.

But Air Canada really jacks their prices up during hockey's off-season. You'd be lucky to get round-trip fare for under $1,200, and you'd have to change planes in Toronto: Ain't no nonstops to Regina International Airport. Nor are there any to John G. Diefenbaker International Airport in Saskatoon (named for the Prime Minister from the Province), and it's no cheaper, so flying there and taking a train or a bus to Regina wouldn't help.

Maybe taking the train would be better? No: VIA Rail Canada does not go to Regina, only to Saskatoon. That's right; It's the capital city of one of the country's Provinces, and its national rail system doesn't go there.

Greyhound does go to Regina, but only offers 1 route per day, and you'd have to change buses twice, at Toronto and Winnipeg, as follows:

Leave Port Authority 12:15 AM Thursday
Arrive Toronto 10:30 AM Thursday (2 hour, 30 minute layover, change buses)
Leave Toronto 1:00 PM Thursday
Arrive Winnipeg 7:45 PM Friday (3 hour, 15 minute layover, change buses)
Leave Winnipeg 11:00 PM Friday
Arrive Regina 5:50 AM Saturday

Kickoff 7:00 PM Saturday
Game Ends around 10:00 PM Saturday (over 12 hours layoff, spend night in hotel)

Leave Regina 10:30 AM Sunday
Arrive Winnipeg 8:55 PM Sunday (1 hour, 20 minute layover, but no bus change)
Arrive Toronto 6:00 AM Tuesday (1 hour, 30 minute layover, change buses)
Leave Toronto 7:30 AM Tuesday
Arrive Buffalo 10:40 AM Tuesday (50 minute layover, change buses)
Leave Buffalo 11:30 AM Tuesday
Arrive Port Authority 7:50 PM Tuesday

And the round-trip fare would be $528.

Maybe driving would be better? It would certainly be cheaper and faster. It's best to get someone to go with you, so you can trade off driving and sleeping. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won’t need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is now the key, through the rest of Ohio and Indiana.

Just outside Chicago, I-80 will split off from I-90, which you will keep, until it merges with Interstate 94. For the moment, though, you will ignore I-94. Stay on I-90 through Illinois, until reaching Madison, Wisconsin, where you will once again merge with I-94. Now, I-94 is what you want, taking it across Minnesota, over the Red River into North Dakota, until reaching Jamestown.

Take Exit 256 to U.S. Route 281 North to U.S. Route 52 North, which you will take all the way up to the Border at Portal, North Dakota/North Portal, Saskatchewan. Route 52 becomes Provincial Route 39 North, and you'll take that to Bienfait, then Provincial Route 47 North to Stoughton, then Provincial Route 33 West to Regina.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 and a half hours in Indiana, an hour and a half in Illinois, 2 and a half hours in Wisconsin, 4 hours and 15 minutes in Minnesota, 6 hours in North Dakota, and 3 hours in Saskatchewan. That's 30 hours and 30 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and just after you enter both Ohio and Indiana, outside Chicago, halfway across Wisconsin, at each end of Minnesota, in North Dakota, and at the border, and accounting for traffic in New York, the Chicago suburbs and the Twin Cities, it should be no more than 39 hours.

Once In the City. Although the Provincial capital, Regina is not the most populous city in Saskatchewan: Saskatoon is, 246,000 to 215,000. And, like most Canadian cities between Toronto and Vancouver, each one's vast prairies mean no real increase when you measure by metropolitan area: Saskatoon, 305,000; Regina, 236,000. Even the Province as a whole has only a little over 1.1 million people. This makes Regina the smallest "market" in any of the 5 major North American sports.
Founded in 1882, and named for Canada's head of state at the time, Britain's Queen Victoria -- "Regina" is Latin for "Queen," as "Rex" is for "King" -- it's pronounced REJ-ih-nah, not Reh-JEE-nah or Reh-JIGH-na. Be careful.
A railroad cuts through the center of town, dividing numbered Avenues into North and South addresses. McDonald Street divides addresses into East and West. Regina Transit charges C$3.25 for a bus fare, with a $10 day pass. Route 1, "The Ring Road," is the city's "beltway."
The Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Regina

The drinking age in Saskatchewan is 19. Postal Codes, appropriately enough, start with S. The Provincial goods and services tax (GST, or sales tax) is 11 percent.

Going In. The Saskatchewan Roughriders played at Taylor Field from 1936 until 2016. This year, they moved 6 blocks to the west, into the new 33,000-seat Mosaic Stadium, which opened last October 1, at 1734 Elphinstone Street at 10th Avenue, about a mile northwest of downtown. Take Bus 12, or the Mosaic Stadium Shuttle. I can find no reference as to what parking will cost.
Mosaic Stadium, with the Regina Armory in the background

The Mosaic Company, which mines potash and phosphate, had previously had naming rights to the previous facility from 2006 onward: Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field.

The Riders share the stadium with the University of Regina Rams, who also wear green. (Their football team is called the Rams, while all their other teams are the Cougars.) The playing surface is FieldTurf, and runs north-to-south.
On July 22, a soccer doubleheader will be held there, Soccer Day in Saskatchewan. The opener will be between arch-rivals, the University of Regina and the Saskatoon-based University of Saskatchewan. The nightcap will be the new version of the New York Cosmos, of the new version of the North American soccer League, against Spanish club Valencia.

In 2018, the Canadian Premier League, Canada's attempt at a "top flight" soccer league, will begin play, and it is expected that Regina will have a team, playing out of Mosaic Stadium. Saskatoon may also get a team.

Food. According to a recent Leader-Post article, more detailed than the stadium website, "Several local restaurants will be offering their cuisines including Rock Creek Tap & Grill, Beer Bros., Coney Island, Western Pizza, Wok Box and Sweet Ambrosia Bakeshoppe."

Unfortunately, there will be an absolute obscenity available: Pulled pork poutine. If Jews and Muslims did not already prohibit pork, this would bring that prohibition about.

Team History Displays. The team was founded as the Regina Rugby Club in 1910, became the Regina Roughriders in 1924, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1946. They have the most dubious distinction in North American sports: They reached 5 straight Finals but lost them all: 1928, '29, '30, '31 and '32 -- and then made it 6 out of 7 in '34. Not even the Buffalo Bills can match that.

They finally won the Grey Cup for the 1st time in 1966, then took until 1989 to win another (beating Hamilton 43-40 in the highest-scoring Final of all time), but have since won them in 2007 and 2013 (the last of these on home turf). However, there is no outward display for these titles in the stadium.

The Roughriders have won 4 Grey Cup Finals, but they've also lost a record 15. Four times, there was an "All Roughriders Final," as Saskatchewan faced the Ottawa Rough Riders (who spelled it as 2 words): Saskatchewan won in 1966; Ottawa won in 1951, 1969 and 1976. The Ottawa Rough Riders folded in 1996, and when Ottawa returned to the League in 2001 (failing in 2006) and again in 2014, they applied to use the old name, but Saskatchewan vetoed the use of the "Rough Riders" name, to avoid confusion; the 2001-06 team became the Renegades, and the team established in 2014 became the Redblacks, each using the old team's color scheme.

In 2009, the Roughriders had a particularly notorious Grey Cup Final loss: Damon Duval of the Montreal Alouettes missed a last-second field goal that appeared to give the Riders the Cup, but the Riders were penalized for having too many men on the field. That's right: In a version of football where you are allowed 12 men on the field, they had 13. Duval made the retry, and the Alouettes won 28-27.

The Riders have 8 retired numbers. Unfortunately, 4 of them were due to the players' deaths in the crash of Trans-Canada Air Lines Flight 810 at Mount Slesse near Chilliwack, British Columbia on December 9, 1956. The 4 players were returning home from the postseason Shrine Game between East and West All-Stars at Empire Stadium in Vancouver.

These tragic honorees are: 40, tight end Mel Becket; 55, offensive lineman Mario DeMarco; 56, offensive lineman Ray Syrnyk; and 73, defensive end Gordon Sturridge. Calvin Jack Jones of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was also killed. The total death toll was 62.

Also honored with the retirement of their numbers are 23, 1960s and '70s quarterback Ron Lancaster; 34, 1960s and '70s running back George Reed; 36, 1980s and '90s kicker Dave Ridgway; and 44, 1970s and '80s guard Roger Aldag.

There are 28 figures from Roughriders history in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame:

* From the 1923 Division title: General manager Al Ritchie, team executive Clair Warner, coach and former quarterback Neil "Piffles" Taylor.

* From the 1928, '29, '30, '31, '32 and '34 Grey Cup Final defeats: Coach Ritchie, team executive Warner, team president Taylor, 2-way back Eddie "Dynamite" James, center Dean Griffing.

* From the 1951 Division title: Warner, team president Bob Kramer, 2-way back Ken Charlton, 2-way tackle Bill Clarke.

* From between the 1951 and 1966 Grey Cup berths: 2-way tackle Martin Ruby.

* From the 1966 Grey Cup: Warner, Lancaster, Reed, team executive Tom Shepherd, GM and former quarterback Ken Preston, head coach Eagle Keys (his real name), receiver Hugh Campbell, center and defensive tackle Ron Atchison, center Ted Urness, guard Al Benecick, guard and placekicker Jack Abendschan, defensive tackle Ed McQuarters.
George Reed

* From the 1969, '72 and '76 Final defeats, but not the '66 win: Defensive end Bill Baker.

* From the 1989 Grey Cup: Shepherd, Preston, Ridgeway, Aldag, slotback Ray Elgaard, receiver Don Narcisse, defensive end Bobby Jurasin,
Roger Aldag

* From the 2007 Grey Cup: Shepherd, offensive tackle Gene Makowsky, defensive back Eddie Davis. No player from the 2013 Grey Cup has yet been elected, although Shepherd was, and is, still there.

In 2006, TSN (The Sports Network, Canada's version of ESPN) named the CFL's 50 Greatest Players. Named from the Riders were Reed (who came in at Number 2), Lancaster (7), Aldag (32), Elgaard (36) and Baker (43).

Stuff. The Rider Store is located in the north end of Mosaic Stadium. They also have locations at Northgate Mall and Grasslands in Regina, and one in Saskatoon. I don't know if, tying into the Western theme, they have cowboy hats with team logos on them.

Unlike most CFL teams, there are comprehensive book histories of the Roughriders, and fairly recent ones at that. In 2009, a little ahead of schedule, several writers collaborated on Saskatchewan Roughriders: The First 100 Years. Not among them was Graham Kelly, who wrote Green Grit: The Story of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2001; Saskatchewan Roughriders: The Players, the History & the Fans in 2012; and The Grey Cup: The Complete History in 1998.

The Riders have an entry in the CFL Traditions DVD series, and Pride of the Ride: A Film About the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Their Fans appeared on DVD in 2004.

During the Game. By their long waits for success, and their Western location, the Roughriders are sort of the Denver Broncos of the CFL. Their fans can be quite intense, very loyal and very loud, with MSN ranking them as the rowdiest sports fans in Canada. A 1995 win over the Calgary Stampeders brought in a club record 55,438 fans -- one-quarter of Regina's population. Although Lambeau Field can now seat about 75 percent of the population of Green Bay, I don't think either the Giants or the Jets is going to get 2 million fans (1/4 of New York City) for a home game anytime soon.

As with Pittsburgh in the 1970s, hard economic times in the 1980s and '90s led to an exodus from the Province, with people going where the jobs were. As a result, when the Riders go to Edmonton and Calgary, their support frequently outnumbers the Eskimo and Stampeder fans.

"Rider Nation" is also known for weird costumes, including, since they're green and shaped something like a football helmet, watermelon halves turned into hats. The old Section 28 at Taylor Field, on the East Stand, became renowned for its rowdy reputation, much like Yankee Stadium's Bleacher Creatures, Wrigley Field's Bleacher Bums, Madison Square Garden's former Blue Seats, and Veterans Stadium's 700 Level.

But if you go to Regina, as long as you're not supporting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (regional rivals), one of the Alberta teams (ditto), the Ottawa Redblacks (the team from the capital), or the Toronto Argonauts (the team from the big media and culture center), you shouldn't worry about your safety. They might be happy to have an American guest checking out their version of football.

Nino Hernandez, an immigrant to Canada from the Philippines, is the regular National Anthem singer. The mascot is Gainer the Gopher. Gophers are common on the Saskatchewan prairies, a "gainer" is one who gains yards, and the name is also an anagram of "Regina." And he wears Number 13 because, in this 12-a-side league, Regina is "The Home of the 13th Man."
The Roughriders have several fight songs, including "Rider Pride," "Paint the World Green," "Green Is the Colour" (borrowed from the song of blue-clad London soccer team Chelsea), "On Roughriders" (to the tune of "On Wisconsin"), and "The Last Saskatchewan Pirate" by the Arrogant Worms (even though the singers of "The Toronto Song" are from Edmonton).

The Riders tend to play their arch-rivals, the Winnipeg Jets, in back-to-back weeks: On the 1st weekend in September, in Regina in one of the CFL's Labour Day Classic games, and in a game called the Banjo Bowl a week later in Winnipeg. The game got its name in 2003, when Blue Bombers placekicker Troy Westwood said that Riders fans were "a bunch of banjo-pickin' inbreds." As if there isn't a lot of rural area in Manitoba. He then "apologized" by saying, "The vast majority of the people in Saskatchewan have no idea how to play the banjo."

After the Game. As long as you don't try to interrupt the fun, your safety won't be an issue. What might be an issue is finding a good place for a postgame meal, or just a pint. The Evras Place shopping center, just to the northwest of the stadium, has eateries, but it might be closed after the game. Your best bet is probably to get back downtown.

If your visit to Regina is during the European soccer season (which we're now not, it starts up again in mid-August), the likeliest place to watch your favorite club is O'Hanlon's, at 1947 Scarth Street, downtown, across from the east side of Victoria Park.

Sidelights. Regina is not a big city. Its sports history is pretty much tied up in the Roughriders. In 1936, they began play at Park de Young, which was renamed Taylor Field in in 1947, in memory of the late Neil Joseph "Piffles" Taylor, a former Roughriders quarterback, coach and general manager, who is often credited as being the man most responsible for the development of pro football in Western Canada, as President of the Western Interprovincial Football Union, which later merged with the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union to form the CFL.
Taylor Field was a weird-looking stadium, somewhat resembling Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota in how many decks it had in which spots. But it provided a wild a wacky (to borrow Marv Albert's phrase) home for the Riders, the University of Regina and high school football for 71 seasons. Temporary bleachers could boost it to 55,000 seats when it hosted the Grey Cup in 1995, 2003 and 2013, but it usually seated around 33,000.

It was on a plot of land bounded by 9th Avenue (north), Retallack Street (east), Railway Street (south) and Cameron Street (west), but its traditional address, for the team's founding and its legend, was 1910 Piffles Taylor Way. As with the new stadium, Bus 12 is the best way to get there from downtown.

The biggest hockey team in Regina is the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, celebrating their 100th Anniversary this year. They were founded in 1917 as the Regina Patricia Hockey Club, named for Princess Patricia of Connaught, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, a grandniece of the then-head of state King George V, and the daughter of the Duke of Connaught, then Canada's Governor-General (the representative of the British monarch). She was also the namesake of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, and, to this day, the Pats wear the regimental badge as a shoulder patch.
They won the Memorial Cup, the championship of Canadian junior hockey, in 1925, 1930 and 1974. They play at the 6,484-seat Brandt Centre, known from its 1977 opening until 2005 as the Regina Agridome, and distinctive due to its orange roof. It's part of the Evraz Place complex, just to the west of Mosaic Stadium, at 1700 Elphinstone Street. Its predecessor, the 1919-built Regina Exhibition Stadium, was demolished early this year.
The other Saskatchewan teams to have won the Memorial Cup are the 1928 Regina Monarchs, the 1985 Prince Albert Raiders and the 1989 Swift Current Broncos.

The closest NHL team to Regina is the Winnipeg Jets, 356 miles to the east. The Calgary Flames are 470 miles to the west. The Edmonton Oilers are 486 miles to the northwest.

The Province is not big on baseball. Cairns Field in Saskatoon, long the biggest baseball park in Saskatchewan, is currently without a professional tenant, although it has amateur ones. Basketball is also not popular there.

As I said, the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, 160 miles northwest of downtown Regina, are big rivals in various sports. UR, known as the Rams in football and the Cougars in all other sports, won the Churchill Bowl (replaced by the Uteck Bowl) in 2000, but lost the subsequent Vanier Cup Final. 2000 was also the year UR won the Hardy Cup, the national championship of Canadian collegiate hockey.

In contrast, US, whose teams are called the Huskies, were National Champions in hockey in 1983, basketball in 2010, women's basketball in 2015, and football in 1990, 1996 and 1998.

In 1988, the 15,195-seat Saskatchewan Place arena opened in Saskatoon. Now the SaskTel Centre, it is the home of the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League, arch-rivals of the Regina Pats.

In 51 seasons of play, the Blades have never won the Memorial Cup, losing the Final in 1989. Nor have they won the WHL title, going 0-for-5 in Finals. Indeed, they haven't even made the Playoffs the last 4 seasons. But they have something the Pats could never have: The cremated remains of Gordie and Colleen Howe, at the base of a statue of Gordie outside the arena. 3515 Thatcher Avenue. Gordie's hometown of Floral is 11 miles to the southeast of Saskatoon, and 156 miles northwest of Regina.

The most prominent museum in Regina, or in the Province, is the Royal Saskatchewan Museum, a natural history museum at 2445 Albert Street. Bus 4 or 7 from downtown. Neither Elvis Presley nor the Beatles ever performed in Saskatchewan.

The only Prime Minister from Saskatchewan has been John Diefenbaker. "Dief the Chief" returned the Conservative Party to power in 1957, before losing it in 1963. He famously got along with the Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, but famously did not with the Democratic President John F. Kennedy. To their friends, JFK called Dief "the boring son of a bitch," while Dief called JFK "a hothead," "a fool," "too young, too brash, too inexperienced, and a boastful son of a bitch!"

Dief died in 1979, living just long enough to see Joe Clark become the 1st Conservative PM since himself. (It didn't last long, though: His government fell apart over the budge within months, and Pierre Trudeau, father of current PM Justin Trudeau, won a snap election.) The Diefenbaker Centre, the closest thing Canada has to a Presidential Library, is at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, and he and his wife Olive are buried there.

The Mosaic Potash Tower, the tallest building in the Province and the tallest between Calgary and Winnipeg, stands just 277 feet high, 1700 12th Avenue, downtown, around the corner from Victoria Park.

Not many TV shows and movies have been shot, or set, in Saskatchewan, and I doubt that very many Americans would recognize any of them.


Regina is not easy to get to. And there's not a lot to do once you do. But a Saskatchewan Roughriders game is quite an experience for a football fan, so it may be worth a visit.

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