Avid Saskatchewan Roughriders fans Randy and Amber Stonehouse are very excited about their trip to the Grey Cup this weekend.

Rider pride reaches far and wide

Randy Stonehouse knocks on wood. Thayne Dilts crosses his fingers.

Randy Stonehouse knocks on wood. Thayne Dilts crosses his fingers.

After making their predictions, the diehard football fans want to make sure only good luck is flowing from Red Deer to their beloved squads set to face off in the 101st Grey Cup in Regina on Sunday.

Neither man remembers too well the last time the Saskatchewan Roughriders met the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the big game — Dilts was barely three in 1989 and some heavy imbibing on that game day fogs Stonehouse’s recollection — but both will be fixated on the action on Sunday, hoping their preferred teams will lay claim to the hallowed trophy.

That 1989 final is regarded as one of the best championship games in Canadian football history — particularly among Rider fans — when the Kent Austin quarterbacked-Riders won 43-40 on a last-second field goal by ‘Robokicker’ Dave Ridgway.

Green is the colour for Stonehouse, almost the only colour. In his wardrobe are some 30 Roughriders jerseys and, as he says, rare are the days when he isn’t wearing a green garment emblazoned with some stalks of wheat and a giant S.

The jerseys make up but a small part of his collection of memorabilia he estimates is worth $10,000.

He possesses the autograph of nearly every famed Rider — Ron Lancaster’s is just about the only absent — and in his ‘man cave/Riders shrine’ there is everything from shiny Roughrider loonies and team stamps to green-specked Roughriders pancake mix and custom-made steel poles used to play the outdoor party game Beersbee.

Rider fans are a famously fanatical bunch, but only Stonehouse can claim the Twitter handle @diehardriderfan.

And when Rider quarterback Darian Durant was fined by the league earlier this season for swearing in a Twitter response to a fan, Stonehouse immediately sprung into action.

“Within 20 minutes I was down at the bank opening up a trust fund to start a collection to pay the fine,” said the 39-year-old originally from Melfort, Sask.

Although Austin’s perfect record in Grey Cup games — the current coach of the Ticats has been involved in four title games, winning as a quarterback and as a coach with the Riders — does concern him, Stonehouse is expecting the Green and White will win comfortably (Saskatchewan 39 Hamilton 23, for the record) in their first Grey Cup on home turf and the last to ever be held at the century-old Mosaic Stadium, more lovingly still known by flatlanders as Taylor Field.

“It’s going to be emotional, this game, because they’ve been playing there for (over 100 years) on that piece of dirt. The stars have all aligned for this, it seems.”

Dilts sees that star alignment a little differently when he makes his prediction. The Tabbies will win, he believes, in a game that will not be determined until the final minutes.

Ticat fans are a rare breed in these parts, and as a supporter he does not have the benefit of finding team paraphernalia in store after store like Rider fans do. But even so, sitting in a Ticats shirt in his work office decked out with Hamilton logos, the Lacombe native says his fandom is intense.

“I think (Ticat fans) are the east Rider fan nation. It doesn’t matter if they’ve got a crappy season or a winning team, they always seem to be out in massive flocks to cheer for them,” said Dilts, 26.

His Hamilton hankering was born through the team winning the first CFL game he ever remembers watching, the 1999 Grey Cup. Since then “it’s been a long 14 years,” he says with a sad laugh, with only two playoff wins before 2013 and a very ugly 1-17 record in 2003.

But thanks to the contributions of a slew of former Riders, he thinks the 2013 team has hit its stride at the perfect time. Slotback Andy Fantuz and kicker Luca Congi, who were coached by Austin on Saskatchewan’s 2007 Cup-winning team, are now with the Ticats and ‘Smilin’ Hank’ Henry Burris will be serenaded with chants of ‘Heeeenry!’ when under centre at his old stomping grounds.

“I was never sold on Burris coming to Hamilton,” said Dilts, referencing concerns about the QB’s playoff record, “But these last couple years he’s shown that he’s hungry for another (Grey Cup) because he knows his years in the league are pretty much done. I think he definitely has that drive to say ‘All right, one more. One more game.’ ”

Transplanted Hamiltonian Dave Megee agrees. With the team’s fan song Oskee Wee Wee “burned into the back of (his) brain” Megee will be watching a team he thinks is due for a big win.

“On paper Saskatchewan is definitely the better looking team, but this team, they fought hard from the beginning. I think they’re hungrier. I think they want it more. … They’re not going to stop fighting. It’s going to be a World War Three on that field,” he said, perhaps with Oskee Wee Wee’s last line “Tigers. … Eat ’em RAW!” on the mind.

While Dilts and Megee will be watching the game from warm Central Alberta homes, Stonehouse will be head to toe in Rider gear — everything except underwear — attending his sixth consecutive Grey Cup game. During that streak, there have been two instances of Rider-related heartbreak, most harshly felt in 2009, when the ‘13th man’ turned from being one of the team’s biggest assets to causing its ruin.

In that Grey Cup, Montreal missed a game-winning field goal. Saskatchewan should have won it then but the Riders were penalized for having an extra man (13 players instead of 12) on the field. The Alouettes didn’t miss the second time.

“The first three months (after the 2009 game), I bet you twice a week he would wake up screaming ‘Thirteen men?! Are you kidding me? Thirteen men?!,” said wife Amber, an Albertan who adopted Gainer and the gang upon dating Randy.

Sunday’s game will be Amber’s first at Mosaic Stadium, and she has streaked her hair green for what she expects will be a Saskatchewan 33 Hamilton 26 game.

Saskatchewan, with a 3-15 overall record in the title game, has the worst Grey Cup winning percentage among CFL teams; Hamilton is 8-10 all time. The last two Grey Cups have been won by teams playing at home — B.C. in 2011 and Toronto last year.

mfish@bprda.wpengine.com

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