Saskatchewan at the heart of Rider pride

Say “Ronnie” to a Saskatchewan Roughriders fan and there’s no question who you’re talking about, says a Red Deer historian who has tackled the phenomenon known as Rider Pride.

James Martens asks Saskatchewan Roughrider fans who owns team shares during his presentation on ‘Rider Pride at Red Deer College Wednesday.

Say “Ronnie” to a Saskatchewan Roughriders fan and there’s no question who you’re talking about, says a Red Deer historian who has tackled the phenomenon known as Rider Pride.

Decades have passed since quarterback Ron Lancaster and running back George Reed ­— who had both come from the United States — earned the hearts and minds of Saskatchewan football fans who were badly in need of some heroes.

Riders fans today still talk about Ronnie and George and the way they bucked the trend, staying in Regina when most other football players would do whatever it took to get out of Saskatchewan, says Red Deer College history instructor James Martens.

Rider pride is really not about football. It’s about Saskatchewan, Martens told a high-spirited audience of about 50 — most sporting Riders team logos and colours — during a public lecture at the college library on Wednesday evening.

Liberally salted with jokes and minus a few academic references, it’s the same paper Martens presented in Scotland recently at an international conference of sports historians.

He later said that the biggest difference between the two lectures was that the sports historians in Scotland didn’t get the jokes, including an off-the-cuff description of Taylor Field — home of the Riders — as the World’s biggest insane asylum.

Taking an occasional sip from a bottle of Pilsner beer while confessing loyalty to his hometown team, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Martens described to his audience how Saskatchewan’s agricultural roots helped the Regina-based team build a fan following that turns other teams green with envy.

“It’s not just the game that unites the people of Rider Nation,” said Martens.

Rider Nation is not a geographic area, but an emotionally-connected community of people whose roots extend into a vision of Saskatchewan that exists mainly in their hearts, he said.

Lancaster and Reed came into Regina in an era when the Riders were doing as badly on the football field as their home province was doing economically. The team was denied a playoff spot for 11 years in a row while the province’s brightest and best were abandoning Saskatchewan by the thousands, he said.

Most went to oil-rich Alberta, where they found good jobs in a runaway economy. But they kept that one little bit of Saskatchewan dust close to their hearts and they and their children still work it for all it’s worth.

Martens relayed the story of one former Saskatchewan couple whose little girl learned the Riders’ fight song before she learned Canada’s national anthem. He spoke also of an elderly woman, living in B.C., who is a die-hard fan — but knows nothing about football.

The question and answer period after his talk brought out a series of testimonies from people devoted to their team, including a handful who own shares in the publicly-traded franchise.

Like the many fans Martens described, Denise Gagne and her husband, Ken Mildenberger had left their farm in Macklin, Sask. in 1991 to seek their fortunes in Red Deer.

Gagne said she was awed by the number of people wearing Riders jerseys at the West Edmonton Mall after the most recent game between Saskatchewan and the Edmonton Eskimos.

The sea of green came as no surprise to Mildenberger, who holds season tickets for the Riders and the Calgary Stampeders. He drives to Calgary to catch a flight to every Riders home game and attends the Calgary games whenever Saskatchewan is playing there.

No other fans know how to cheer a team the way the Riders’ fans can cheer, said Mildenberger.

Holding a season ticket to McMahon Field in Calgary will also make it easier for Mildenberger to get a spot at the Grey Cup, which the Stampeders are hosting this year, said Gagne.

And then there was Jennifer Thompson, who completed her Rider Pride outfit with a dainty pair of Rider green shoes.

Originally from Southern Ontario, Thompson was married in spring to a dyed-in-green Rider fan, Dallon Thompson, and has become a full-fledged citizen of Rider Nation. While they were wed in Ontario, the couple held their reception in Dallon’s hometown, Martensville, Sask.

It was an all-green affair, sponsored by Pilsner beer and attended by Riders mascot Gainer the Gopher as a surprise guest.

Just Posted

Rural transit service rolled out

2A South Regional Transit will link Innisfail and Penhold with Red Deer

Some Red Deer waste collection schedules change due to holiday season

Tuesday collections will be moved for two weeks

Red Deer ‘champion’ helps hospital by sharing ongoing petition

It’s been about three years since many physicians at Red Deer Regional… Continue reading

Red Deer Airport’s prospects are looking up for 2019

Ultra-low-cost passenger service is on the horizon

Funding down for Red Deer Christmas charities

Food hampers and toys for children going out to those in need

Alberta’s Sundial starts shipping to AGLC this week

Sundial’s Rocky View facility has received the green light from Health Canada… Continue reading

Penny Marshall dead at 75, best known as TV’s Laverne and director of ‘Big,’ ‘A League of Their Own’

Bronx-born Penny Marshall, who found ’70s sitcom success on “Laverne and Shirley”… Continue reading

Chabot scores overtime winner to lift Senators over Predators 4-3

OTTAWA — Thomas Chabot saw an opening and he took it. And… Continue reading

Canadian Marielle Thompson earns World Cup ski cross bronze in season opener

AROSA, Switzerland — Canada’s Marielle Thompson captured bronze at the opening World… Continue reading

Canada doesn’t make Oscars short list for best foreign language film

LOS ANGELES — Canada is no longer in the running for best… Continue reading

Warrant issued for arrest of ‘Schwimmer lookalike’ suspect

LONDON — A British judge has issued an arrest warrant for an… Continue reading

Moneywise: Canadian workers unhappy with pay, want pension plans

Many working Canadians are feeling underpaid and are so worried about their… Continue reading

Brazil police say faith healer has turned himself in

RIO DE JANEIRO — A celebrity faith healer accused of sexually abusing… Continue reading

B.C. hockey coach creates ‘gear library’ to remove cost barrier of sport

VANCOUVER — Nicola Froese says she has always loved playing sports, but… Continue reading

Most Read