July 29, 2008

Dear Regina

Jaime Stein

Dear Regina: You are the belle of the CFL ball.

There is no denying that Regina is a football town. That fact was reinforced on the weekend when I made my fourth visit to Mosaic Stadium or Taylor Field as the locals still refer to the prairie football shrine.

Entering Regina airport, fans were on hand to request autographs from Argos QB Kerry Joseph, who was making his first trip back to Regina as a member of the opposition, after leading the Riders to a Grey Cup Championship in November.

The football chatter began as soon as we entered the cab en route to the stadium and did not cease to exist until we left the Queen City.

We were in Regina to film a documentary on Joseph. It was clear that he had captured the hearts of Reginans, but it was the good people of Regina who captured our hearts during our brief 48-hour visit.

First, there was the farmer at the local market who discussed everything from offensive lines to how the Argos eked out a win against the Lions the previous week. “It was the Eskimos, not the Lions,” his wife interjected, before sharing her opinion on the upcoming game and Joseph’s return to Regina.

Next, it was the father in the park who – like many in Regina – had come back from the lake, early, to go to the game. While his son played on a slide in a downtown park, the father explained that he had eight tickets to the game for his group of 12; “Not bad for this game, he said. We still have to figure out who gets to go.”

At the stadium, Regina’s true community spirit was evident. Three hours prior to kick-off, two families had walked through the endzone gate and into the stadium. They were tossing a football around on the field. Ten minutes later they posed for a family photo on a CFL logo and left the stadium to enjoy the pre-game festivities outside.

Inside the Riders Team Store, it was an elbowroom affair. A line of fans clad in Rider green snaked alongside Mosaic Stadium, waiting to purchase more Rider gear.

We met melon-heads and wig-wearers, families and students and it was clear they were united by one common force: Rider Pride.

When the game began, Rider fans showed their class with a rousing standing ovation for Joseph, which would have sent shivers down the spine of even the hardest of fans in Riderville.

This column is for the fans sitting behind the Argos bench who had enough CFL knowledge to heckle the entire Argo hierarchy from Adriano Belli right down to the last player on the depth chart.

This is for the fans in Section 28 who remain standing throughout the game and regularly shatter the decibel meter in the process.

This is for the 10,000+ deluge of fans that braved the rain and the hail and remained in their seats at Mosaic Stadium, waiting for play to resume.

This is for the lady in the concessions beneath the east stands who gave me a garbage bag to protect our camera during the storm.

And lastly, this is for the 30-year Rider season ticket holders who were kind enough to stop their car outside Mosaic Stadium in the middle of the third quarter and drive me back to downtown to our hotel to retrieve a missing piece of equipment for our camera.

In the end, the game was magical. The fans drowned out the Argos offence with noise late in the fourth quarter when it was needed and showed that they were an equal show to the 5-0 Riders – oh yes, the 5-0 Riders for the first time in most of these fans lifetime. Prairie magic is alive and well.

In a list of sporting events to attend in a lifetime, a football game in Regina is clearly near the top of the list.

Jaime Stein is the Canadian Football League’s Manager of Digital Media and the former play-by-play voice of the Toronto Argonauts.