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Living and dying with the Riders

This week I had planned to talk about that controversial cover story in Rolling Stone about the Sheepdogs. You know, the one that described Saskatoon in such unflattering terms.

This week I had planned to talk about that controversial cover story in Rolling Stone about the Sheepdogs. You know, the one that described Saskatoon in such unflattering terms.

The writer sounded very bored during his visit to the Sheepdogs' home town referring to the "squat downtown skyline" and a bar full of "blithering drunks."

That portrayal of Saskatchewan got people really upset. But then on Friday came the game between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Calgary Stampeders, with the Riders losing again, this time by a 45-35 count at home.

Needless to say, nobody in Saskatchewan cares about Rolling Stone anymore. All they care about is yet another terrible Roughriders performance, one bad enough to turn the whole province into, ahem, blithering drunks.

The season has been a disaster. They lost their first three games, then won in Montreal, and then it was back to losing. There have been several low points so far, the lowest being their dismal "Toilet Bowl" performance to the formerly-winless BC Lions, losing by 24-11.

The 1-6 record is currently tied for the worst record in the league, and is the worst start to a Riders season since 2000.

This is resembling too many of those bad 1990s season, or those old "Reign of Error" squads that Bob Hughes used to talk about from 1977 to 1987. Those Riders in particular were known more for marketing slogans than for winning: like "Rider Pride!" Or "Green is the Colour."

It just so happens that this current mess on the field is coinciding with the now-famous "Rider Oath" marketing push, where fans are supposed to pledge undying loyalty to the Riders.

I fully expect the announcement of telethon plans, soon.

It has come as quite a shock for "Rider Nation" to suddenly find themselves supporting a terrible football team after being in the Grey Cup game three of the last four years. Callers have swamped the call-in radio shows to lash out at the entire organization.

Basically, fans have been calling for the heads of one or more, or even all of the following people: general manager Brendan Taman, new head coach Greg Marshall, offensive coordinator Doug Berry, defense coach Richie Hall, and team president Jim Hopson.

They are mad at Hopson for letting Eric Tillman escape to Edmonton after all his legal troubles; they think Hall ran Edmonton into the ground during his time there as head coach; they think Taman and Berry ran the Winnipeg Blue Bombers into the ground while they were there.

And Marshall? He's getting all kinds of heat for the miserable start. My parents are particularly ticked off at him for his annoying habit of chewing gum on the sidelines all the time. It drives them crazy.

Fans have been on the case of quarterback Darian Durant, too, for the inept offense and lack of scoring. But a revolving door of personnel and injuries is more to blame for the team's problems. The consensus is that the receiving corps has been decimated.

That has led to the "Andy Fantuz watch"` at NFL training camp. Rumors that Fantuz might not be doing so well down there have raised hopes in the wheat province that the Chicago Bears will cut him and that he will soon return to Saskatchewan to save the Riders.

Anyway, that sums up the state of mind of people in "Rider Nation." Everyone is basically calling for everyone to be shipped out of here.

This, my friends, is the dark side of Rider fandom. It's great here when you win, but when you lose, boy, do you ever need to find a safe undisclosed location.

Folks here booed Ron Lancaster off the field in 1978 during his last game in Regina. People here dumped manure on kicker Paul McCallum's front lawn after he missed that field goal in the playoffs against BC years ago.

Some might say this behaviour is not what being a fan ought to be about. They call this "jumping off the bandwagon," and say a real Rider fan should cheer on and encourage the team and be supportive, no matter what.

Not when they lose, I say. Maybe dumping manure is a bit too extreme, but getting exasperated at your team for losing is part of being a fan.

I have an analogy that explains the passionate fandom of the Riders, particularly during the tough times.

Compare it to the global markets. People in the stock market, and in business generally for that matter, are making investments. In some cases it is a long-term one, with results expected over many years. They're going "long," as they say in the markets - and that's similar to what football fans do with their teams. They are with them for the long haul.

Fans of the Riders, like stockholders, are making an investment - an emotional and, yes, financial investment (in tickets and merchandise) for their home team. After enriching the team's coffers through all those ticket and merchandise sales, fans expect and deserve nothing less than a good product on the field. They want results.

That explains why Rider fans are reacting as they are these days. These fans are not so much pledging allegiance to the Riders as they are "going long" with them. That explains why they are so upset at the team right now: they are seeing their investment in the Green Riders go down the tubes.

Speaking of green -- I notice investors in the stock market also tend to like that colour, because for them green is the color of money.

Given the events of the past month, it's fair to say Rider fans and investors in the stock market have one thing in common: they're all seeing red.

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