Monday, 31 October 2016

Rider Nation soaks in Taylor Field atmosphere one last time

The crowd at Taylor Field soaks in the final Roughriders home game there.
    REGINA – Rider Nation truly lived in the moment when it came to attending the last Saskatchewan Roughriders game at Taylor Field/old Mosaic Stadium.
    On Saturday, Roughriders fans flocked in from all across the province and I dare say even across Canada to be part of the last CFL dance of the historic stadium in Regina. It was a nostalgia trip where one received comfort in reliving the familiar.
    The atmosphere was similar to a Labour Day Classic or even the game days around the 2007 and 2008 campaign. In 2007 and 2008, game days were surrounded with excitement by the fact the Roughriders were one of the league’s elite teams after about 15 years of being bad to mostly a middle of the pack club.
    While there were those similarities, the atmosphere was also different. The finality of what was going to take place was in the back of everyone’s minds. This was a night to say farewell and thanks to a park that contains so many great shared memories.
The Rider Cheer Team performs a routine on the practice field.
    People were arriving on Saturday three hours before the 5 p.m. kickoff against the B.C. Lions to tailgate in the parking lots near the facility.
    The tailgate party on the practice field was also packed. The air was filled with the sounds from the Regina-based rock band Big Bad Storm. The Rider Cheer team also came to put on a special performance to the sounds of the Rider Drum Line.
    As usual, the Rider Pep Band played outside the stadium’s front gates about 40 minutes before kickoff.
    At halftime, Canadian country music star and Langenburg, Sask., product Jess Moskaluke got the sellout crowd of 33,427 going with a short but energetic set.
    The post-game ceremony provided a great light and fireworks show that walked people back through time reliving the history of the place.
Jess Moskaluke starred at halftime.
    There were also huge cheers as mascot Gainer the Gopher took a last lap in his old car with the gopher hole roof.
    There were also appearances by Roughriders legends George Reed, Roger Aldag and Gene Makowsky, who each emerged from Rider cap jackets like Jedi Knights. Franchise quarterback Darian Durant completed the quartet to give representation for each of the club’s four Grey Cup championship teams, and he also gave a heartfelt address to the fans.
    Of course, Rider Nation was in top form. A number of Rider fans arrived wearing various trademark costumes. While Halloween was only a couple of days away, game days provide enough reason to dress up.
    The fans are the reason Taylor Field had the amazing atmosphere it did. Those that went to games became part of a community in a community. The regulars that came to each game got to know the neighbours that sat around them and those that sat at various other spots around the building.
    In a lot of cases, the regulars only get to see each other on game days. One of the best known regulars is Connie Dobson, who is also known as #TheTravelingRiderFan. She has made the jaunt from Edmonton to Regina for every Roughriders home game for over a decade. She has also followed the team on a regular basis on the road.
    While cheering hard for the Riders, Dobson also gives credit when the other teams do something well. Over the years, she has befriended and earned the respect of Roughriders players and a number of players from other CFL clubs too. Dobson is the textbook picture of the model fan.
Terrell Sinkfield Jr. makes an acrobatic TD catch for the Lions.
    Speaking of fans, you also saw small representations of fans wearing gear of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Edmonton Eskimos and the Lions to ensure their clubs had representation at this monumental game. It has become common place for fans of other CFL teams to make the trek to Taylor Field to see at least one game in the legendary park and feel the passion of Rider Nation up close.
    The only thing that didn’t go to plan was the action on the field during game time. As engaged as the crowd was, the Roughriders fell to the Lions 24-6 and dropped to 5-12 in the standings. B.C. improved to 11-6.
    All season, the Roughriders have been plagued by struggles on the offensive and defensive line due to injury and personnel turnover. Against the Lions, the Roughriders offensive line missed way too many blocks, and the defensive line didn’t apply much pressure on Lions quarterback Jonathon Jennings.
    The green and white will need to address both of those areas in the off-season.
Roughriders mascot Gainer the Gopher makes one last pass in his old car.
    In the end, the loss on the field didn’t dampen the night’s festivities. The members of Rider Nation have seen their share of downs, but they always persevere and look forward to next year.
    Next year provides the chance to back the Roughriders in a new Mosaic Stadium that looks like a palace. It is also specially constructed to trap noise. It won’t take long to indulge in the comforts of the new home park.
    Even with that in mind, the memories of the old park will never fade away.

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