If the suits in Toronto want an easy way to generate hype, invigorate two rabid fan bases, and create some off-season buzz that isn’t about how many downs the CFL needs, they simply need to draw inspiration from the history of Ottawa and Saskatchewan.
Every year when the schedule-makers release the full slate of games, many fans are immediately drawn to the marquee matchups, such as the Labour Day Classics and the Banjo Bowl.
Why not add one more unique annual contest to the calendar? That’s where the Rider Rumble comes in.
The concept is simple. Ottawa and Saskatchewan are two historic franchises that shared a name for 72 years. There’s been endless jokes about the Rough Riders and Roughriders, but there’s no denying that over the decades a healthy amount of animosity between R-Nation and Rider Nation has built up.
When the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group was awarded a franchise in 2008, Saskatchewan insisted that a condition of Ottawa’s return to the league was that they could not use the Rough Rider name.
But why not lean into that history?
The annual Rider Rumble game would feature both teams using full retro uniforms — that sound you hear is cash registers in the nation’s capital dinging. To get around the single helmet rule, retro decals could be used.
TSN would get into the act by providing retro graphics and for that one game, Ottawa would not be the Redblacks, they would be the Rough Riders.
Heck, Rooter the Rooster could come out of retirement to peck at Gainer and for one night, Big Joe would be relegated to just another plaid-clad spectator in the stands.
It would be a throwback to when the two teams co-existed.
As to where the game would be played, it would be a rotating basis. One year, Saskatchewan would be the home team. The following year, the Rider Rumble would take place in Ottawa when Saskatchewan came to town.
It’s not like either team struggles to fill their stadiums, but with a special biennial home game, people from around the country would plan their vacations around flocking to TD Place or Mosaic Stadium to soak in the atmosphere.
By feeding into the passion that already exists in two of the largest fan bases in each division, the CFL would not only be providing fans fodder to brag about at tailgates and Grey Cup, but also creating the perfect excuse for people to look back at each team’s history.
For example, not many know that from 1910 to 1923 Saskatchewan’s teams were known as the Regina Rugby Club until they changed their name to the Regina Roughriders in 1924.
Coincidentally or not, that just so happened to be the year that the Ottawa Rough Riders switched their name to the Senators. Local historian Jim McAuley’s book Inside the Huddle: Rough Riders to Redblacks details that the Rough Riders amalgamated with St. Brigid’s, a team from the Quebec Rugby Football Union and that St. Brigid’s wanted the squad to have a neutral name. Given that the Senators were the NHL’s best team in the 1920s, that’s the route they chose to go.
In fact, Ottawa’s first two Grey Cup wins in 1925 and 1926 were won when they were called the Senators. But in 1927, the team switched back to the Rough Riders, the name it used until it was run into the ground and allowed to die in 1996.
If this sounds far-fetched and unrealistic, it shouldn’t. The concept itself has already been tossed around. In 2012, at league meetings in Las Vegas, OSEG partner Jeff Hunt raised the idea of renting the name from Saskatchewan for an annual retro game, but clearly nothing ever came of it.
What better time than now for the league to introduce an annual Rider Rumble? Not only would fans in Canada eat it up, but you better believe American networks and sports personalities would pay attention.
Sure, initially they might be interested because their jokes about two teams with the same name have come back to life, but ultimately it would introduce a wider audience to two beautiful stadiums, two passionate groups of fans and — if we’re lucky — maybe some damn good football too.