Don Landry | CFL.ca
Family and CFL football. For the winners of the Nissan "It's Game Day" contest, the two go together like green goes with gold. So much so that that Ryan and Kyla Harding couldn't wait to get their sons involved, just days after the little guys came into this world.
36-year-old Ryan is the patriarch of a clan that never misses an Edmonton Eskimos' game and is part of an even bigger, extended family. For him, the annual Labour Day rematch between the Eskies and the Calgary Stampeders holds special meaning.
It's where he and his wife of eight years, Kyla, had their first date. And it's also where each of their sons - Ole (pronounced Oh-lee) and Elliott - took in their first Eskimo games, not long after leaving the maternity ward.
Ole, now three years of age, was just over two weeks old when mom and dad took him to his first game, in 2011. Elliott, now a little over a year old, was only nine days old when he took in his first Eskimos' game last September.
That's a whole lot younger than the age at which dad took in his first game. Ryan was eight years old when he first stepped into Commonwealth Stadium.
“My dad would bring me to the games, especially the Labour Day rematch," said Harding. "I remember going to a lot of those.”
His imagination captured by the home team - and linebacker Willie Pless and quarterback Tracy Ham in particular - a lifelong sporting love was born.
With their Eskimos' passions firmly in place, Kyla and Ryan wanted to have their sons exposed to the magic of a family night of football as soon as possible.
They attend every game together, even planning summer vacations so as not to interfere with the Eskimos' home schedule. “We don’t miss ‘em. It’s a family affair. It’s tradition,” said Harding, adding that he's hopeful that the tradition will grow and even reach into another generation down the road.
“I hope that in 30 years, 40 years, I’m there with my grandkids. That’d be pretty exciting.”
Ryan, Kyla, Ole and Elliott take up their usual seats in section "K" at Commonwealth Stadium, along with some close friends who share their love for Eskimos' football and the CFL. That "K" might well stand for "kids," as the group is growing.
“There’s 12 of us that get season’s tickets together," explained Harding. "A bunch of us are having kids at the same time, so it’s becoming more of a family environment there.” All told, there are four families in the bunch, with seven kids (and another little Eskimos' fan on the way).
Harding says Elliott is a little young to really take in what is going on out on the gridiron, but that Ole, despite being distracted by mascots Punter and Nanook from time to time, is really catching on.
“I don’t think there’s a day goes by that he doesn’t throw an Eskimos’ mini football around the house,” noted Harding, adding that Ole gets excited when he sees a picture of his favourite player, quarterback Mike Reilly.
Hoping that his sons can learn about teamwork and dedication as well as being entertained at Eskimos' games, Harding is happy to bring them into the family of CFL fans. He has high regard for them, even if they are not backers of the green and gold.
“People who are season tickets holders, whether it’s for the Eskimos or another team, everyone’s passionate about it. There’s competition but there’s also camaraderie between the fans. We protect our game and we believe in it.”
Harding is a manager at Edmonton's Hope Mission, which hosts some fifty homeless youths every night, and commutes to work every day. So, the family's brand new Nissan Juke will certainly come in handy.
“It’s awesome," he said of the vehicle. "We went in and checked it out at the dealership while the voting (for the contest) was on and we took a picture with it saying ‘hey, this could be us if you vote for us'. To be blessed with a free car, it’s pretty awesome.”
The fans have spoken and the #ItsGameDay nominees are in.
Check back soon for final results.
Prize vehicle may not be as shown. There will be one (1) Grand Prize available to be won. The Grand Prize consists of a 2014 JUKE SL AWD (model code:N5XT14 LN00) with an approximate retail value of $29,678 (the “Grand Prize”).