Thursday, 1 September 2016

Bomber fans help make Labour Day Classic go round

Bomber fans gather at Wayne's World in 2012.
    While it might seem strange to say, the annual Labour Day Classic in Regina isn’t under the soul ownership of Rider Nation.
    The fans of the Saskatchewan Roughriders are the heart of the CFL, but every year on Labour Day weekend their ranks at Mosaic Stadium/Taylor Field get infiltrated by a healthy contingent wearing blue and gold. At one time, it seemed to the locals like a group of aliens dropped into “the Queen City,” when supporters of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers – the Roughriders forever prairie rivals – drop into town.
    Bomber fans have descended on Regina for decades for the annual clash with the host Roughriders. The fact that the Winnipeg side hasn’t won this game since 2004 doesn’t seem to matter for the Bombers faithful.
    Back in 2004, Jon Ryan, who is now special teams captain for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, was coffin cornering punts out at the opposition’s one yard line as a rookie pro for the Bombers, when they took the Labour Day Classic 17-4.
    The Winnipeg fans are in town to have a good time. You can also bet the good times this weekend will start way before Sunday’s 1 p.m. local time kickoff. Bomber fans will no doubt start filtering into Regina on Friday night and begin frequenting the various lounges and nightclubs.
Bomber fans tailgate before the 2009 Labour Day Classic.
    Roughriders fans have long has a reputation for being wild, crazy and loyal, which often includes arriving at games in various types of team attire.
    If you had the chance to talk to the late Cal Murphy, who was a legendary head coach and general manager of the Bombers, or former Bombers star running back Willard Reaves, they will tell you Bomber fans can be just as wild, crazy and loyal as Roughriders fans are. They would suggest checking out the crowd shots of the Bombers 47-17 Grey Cup win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1984 in Edmonton to support that point.
    You wouldn’t have to look at old footage to see that is true this weekend. All you have to do is checkout the sizable pockets of blue and gold mixed in among the green and white in Regina.
Bomber fans get pumped up outside of Wayne's World in 2008.
    During game day, Bomber fans often rally pre-game at “Wayne’s World,” which is the back yard of a house that is across an alley neighbouring the west side of Mosaic Stadium. This will often mark the largest gathering for the visiting fans.
    The presence of the Winnipeg fans has been a long accepted fact at the Labour Day Classic. The influx of Bombers supporters usually includes a healthy group of regulars that make their way to Regina year after year. A few even bring their own barbecues for the pre-game tailgate party.
    The interaction between the fan bases is traditionally quite friendly. Both sides get in good-natured jibes towards each other, but they also enjoy partying together in the two days leading up to the game and the night after the game.
Bombers and Riders fans can get along at the Labour Day Classic.
    Those that are at the Labour Day Classic on an annual basis begin to know the regulars at least by face. A mutual respect is shown towards the passion each side displays for their teams.
    Sometimes, even relationships that include benefits develop for the weekend between fans from the opposite sides, which can add another layer of interesting memories for the Labour Day Classic weekend. Along the way, that also gives new meaning to the phrase, “Make love, not war.”
    The Bomber fans that trek to Regina are ardent ones. You can see that by the different Bombers jerseys that come out. There is a good dose of Milt Stegall jerseys with Stegall having built his legend playing in Winnipeg from 1995 to 2008.
    Young fans in their late teens and early 20s will often sport jerseys of Bombers stars from their Grey Cup wins in 1984, 88 and 90. Former receiver Joe Poplawski is a common one along with former league MVP quarterback Tom Clements and Reaves. In recent years, more Bombers fans have been spotted wearing the uniform of the club’s late linebacking great in Tyrone Jones.
A Bomber fan dresses up as The Golden Boy.
    When Cal Murphy was scouting for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts in the 2000s, Bomber fans often recognized him outside Mosaic Stadium and said, “Do you know who that is? That’s Cal Murphy. When he coached and ran the Bombers, we were great.”
    Murphy often chatted with Bombers supporters, which included posing in a picture with them while giving his gleeful trademark cackle.
    After Murphy passed away at age 79 on Feb. 18, 2012, you will usually find some Bombers fans holding a toast in his honour during the Labour Day Classic weekend.
    The atmosphere at the Labour Day Classic in Regina wouldn’t be complete without the presence of the Winnipeg fans. This one will have a little special extra meaning, because it will be the last one held at the Roughriders long-time home park.
    When the annual clash moves to New Mosaic Stadium next year, you can be sure the healthy loyal contingent of Bombers fans will be back to help keep the party going.

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