CALGARY — Members of the Saskatchewan Roughrider Nation are collecting their jerseys, green body paint and watermelon helmets in preparation for a mass move west ahead of this weekend’s Grey Cup.
The Roughriders will face the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday in Calgary after Saskatchewan defeated the Stampeders in the West Division final last weekend.
And with Grey Cup appearances still somewhat of a rarity for the Roughriders — they’ve only been there eight times in the last 60 years — their loyal fans are eager to make the trip a few short hours away.
John Prette of Estevan, Sask., says he and his wife already make the two-hour drive to Regina for home games and it made sense to just keep on going to see their team vie for the Canadian Football League championship.
“We thought we weren’t going to come, but we changed our minds on Sunday,” Prette said.
“Calgary just being a day’s drive, to have an opportunity to see your team this close in a championship game, is too good an opportunity to pass up.”
He said he was looking on Craigslist to snag tickets from disappointed Stampeders fans, but wasn’t willing to pay much more than face value.
Many sellers on that site are asking thousands of dollars for their seats, while some tickets offered by official online resellers are going from more than $2,200 each.
More than 46,000 tickets for the game sold out in early September as many hometown fans gambled that the Stampeders would be in the final game again — they won it last year. At face value, tickets ranged from $119 to $370.
Saskatoon police warned excited fans to be careful not to rush into any online deals too quickly, noting that scammers may try to exploit their pride to make a profit.
David Ash, president of Regina-based Dash Tours, said the phones started lighting up the minute the Riders beat the Stampeders on the weekend. As of Tuesday afternoon, only six tickets remained for Grey Cup tour packages that include transportation, accommodation and seats. The packages range in price from $399 to $1,599 per person.
“Rider fans are so rabid because when you don’t get to drink from the cup very often and you get the chance, it’s that much sweeter.”
A lot of Saskatchewan fans are already in Calgary, having moved there years ago when Alberta’s oil economy boomed. They make up a visible cluster of green at many regular-season games.
Marion Hayes, who owns Pazzer’s Saskatchewan Pub, said she’s been taking reservations for days from Riders fans who are planning to celebrate all weekend.
She’s busy decking out her pub, already a sea of green, with Grey Cup memorabilia. It’s booked full for Sunday’s game, although there will be room in a tent being added on the side.
Many fans will spend the day getting ready for the big show, carving out watermelon helmets and dyeing hair and faces green, she said.
“Those Saskatchewan people, they don’t get embarrassed too easily.”
She said she’s heard that hotels in the city are filling up quickly and she’s sure that Rider fans will snap up any extra tickets to get a chance to cheer for their team in person.
“It’s so close. Saskatoon’s really only a six-hour drive and that’s not much for the love of the game.”