In Riderville, the annual Labour Day Classic against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers took place in a much different way this year.
With no CFL season, the Saskatchewan Roughriders still wanted to celebrate their 110th anniversary with Rider Nation, the green and white faithful who have remained a source of pride through a difficult year.
Instead of playing football, the Riders invited fans to the Mosaic Stadium parking lot for a public, health-approved drive-thru experience. Even more to celebrate was the fact that the province of Saskatchewan declared September 6 Saskatchewan Roughrider Day.
Arriving on site, staff and volunteers were excited about the event, as cars were lining up down the parking lot. I took a peek down the line and could not see the end. One of the first cars of fans to arrive mentioned they drove five hours just to attend because they have never missed a Labour Day Classic and wanted to carry on the tradition even with no football being played. The rush of being at Mosaic Stadium was worth the long drive — true Rider pride. The tickets for the event were free, but limited to 600 cars and it was sold out.
The drive-thru featured autographs from Rider alumni, prizes for each car, prepared autographed cards from current team stars, photos with a Roughrider next to the vehicle, and Gainer the Gopher was bringing his usual energy, dancing up and down the rows of vehicles.
For me, I felt like it was game day again. Fans were dressed up in Rider gear from head to toe. Cars were decked out and fans were leaning out of car windows with ‘Go Riders’ signs.
“I think the whole not having CFL this year has finally hit me. I can’t even remember the last time I missed a Labour Day weekend. Sad year and going to miss my Riders,” said Jason Fichter, a long-time fan.
I’ve attended many Rider Games and Labour Day Classics in my time but what stands out to me the most is meeting Rider fans. One of those fans on Sunday was Nathan Clearihue, a lifelong supporter who bleeds green.
“I went to the event as I missed all the energy and craziness that comes with a Riders home game. Being able to pretend it was game day and slap on some make up, throw on the jersey and just have an overall good time was exactly what I was missing. That event gave that feeling and it felt great,” he said.
I see Nathan with his family at every Rider game day and event around the city always face painted and dressed in his best Riders gear. He and other dedicated Riders fans breath life into the team with their continued support. I asked Nathan what it means to him to be a Rider fan.
“Proud and astonished beyond belief. Living in a province that barely over a million people with so much support for a pro football team is insane. People wearing jerseys daily, sitting on coffee row in a small town talking about the Riders in the middle of winter,” he said.
“That feeling I get when I walk into the stadium and I get to hang out with 33,000 of my closest friends. We are quite an eclectic mix of fans with all the same goal in mind. I can’t think of any other team in the CFL with that kind of fan base.”
I asked Nathan mentioned how fans can still support the Riders without a CFL season in 2020.
“Treat everyday as if there still is a CFL season. Go to the Riders Store, buy those jerseys, t-shirts, hats, etc. Stay in touch with your favourite players on social media. These guys miss us as much as we miss them,” he said.
“I personally committed to my season tickets for 2021 and even though it seems a tad bit early I am constantly asking, ‘Is it June yet?'”
I feel hopeful for the CFL to return after seeing this much support from the community. With the cancellation of the CFL season, this was a nice way of getting together as Rider Nation, as I think the team and fans both needed.
I didn’t realize how much I missed the buzz and excitement that permeates the city before games. I especially miss sharing the anticipation and walking into Mosaic Stadium with fans, hearing the familiar chant ‘Let’s go Riders!’ I got a taste of that on Sunday.
The Riders have brought the province of Saskatchewan together for the last 110 years and I think Rider Nation will continue to grow for years to come.