BALLANTINE: Lost on Labour Day without being at McMahon Stadium

Photo courtesy: Ryan Ballantine

As COVID-19 has taken things away from me over the last few months, including the CFL season, I have been able to rationalize a lot of things that would have seemed very strange a year ago.

I wear a mask in public, and am not some sort of vigilante crime fighter. My parents are thankfully still with us, but I see them rarely and only at a distance in order to make sure they remain healthy. I’ve been to the theatre just once in the last six months, and it was to see a film starring SpongeBob Squarepants.

All of those things make sense. After all, I don’t want to catch (or spread) the new plague of the 21st century.

Today hurts just a little more than any other day, however, because it would have been the Labour Day Classic at McMahon Stadium. Today would have been the 31st year in a row that I would sit down to watch the Stampeders take on the Edmonton Football Club.

I was eleven years old the first time I went to the Labour Day Classic. It was my second game ever, having been to a game the previous year because my Mom’s boss had tickets. This was going to be different, I was told. This game was against our hated rivals from up north whose fans would turn up in droves to turn the stands in the end zones into a sea of green and gold.

This was the Stampeders’ time to take a stand. They had a record of 5-2-1 coming into the game. The atmosphere was electric. Danny Barrett was going to light it up going deep to Allen Pitts.

Calgary lost 38-4.

It stands as the largest margin of defeat for the Stampeders in the history of the Labour Day Classic.

Yet, I was hooked.

As a newspaper delivery boy for the Calgary Sun, I would get up every morning, speed through my route, and take my family’s copy home to the breakfast table to read while devouring Froot Loops. The sports section was mine and mine alone in my house.

In 1991, I got my first season tickets. The Stampeders ran a ‘Junior QB Club’ promotion where an entire season could be had for $50. My dad bought my younger brother and I seats for the year and we would take the bus for an hour each way to go to games with a few bucks to get us through.

I’ve never stopped going.

I was there when Jeff Garcia threw for 546 yards and six touchdowns in his first start.

I was there for the cardboard box era of the Feterik family debacle.

I was there in 1994 when the team warmed up in red and white only to storm the field in black. The dominated the game, winning 48-15.

I was there in 1999 when Calgary lost even though Dave Dickenson had clearly broken the plane on a one-yard plunge in overtime.

I’ve seen twenty wins and ten losses.

My son’s first football game was the Labour Day Classic in 2009. He was 21 days old. He has been to six Labour Day games in his lifetime and is now a proud season ticket holder. He knows that Labour Day is the biggest and baddest of regular season games, no matter what the records of the teams are coming in.

The Labour Day tailgate party is also the best of the year. It starts at breakfast with eggs benny and meat hits the BBQ in time for lunch. All are welcome — even those wearing the wrong colours — because if anything, Labour Day is about celebrating the league, our teams, and the type of camaraderie you can’t find anywhere else.

I’ve gotten this far without mentioning the military flyover during the anthem when fighter jets skim the top of McMahon, shattering your eardrums as you look skyward in awe of these fighting machines. The standing ovation brings tears to my eyes as the pilots come back in the third quarter for a curtain call, drawing a massive cheer from a sold out crowd.

I haven’t missed a Labour Day game since 1990. Today, without one, I am set adrift with nothing to do but hope that there will be one next year.

Labour Day and the clash between Calgary and Edmonton is tattooed on my soul.

Ryan Ballantine is a lifelong Stamps fan and host of the Go Stamps Go Show Podcast. He has been covering the team since 2008.