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Roughriders truly represent the province

This week I'm going to talk about the Saskatchewan Roughriders and what they mean to the province.

This week I'm going to talk about the Saskatchewan Roughriders and what they mean to the province.

After all, it's Labour Day weekend - a weekend for the working men and women to take some time off from their work life to enjoy what is really important in life. Namely, football.

I want to try to put into some perspective what the Riders truly mean to the province. I don't know if people in Saskatchewan fully realize how much the Riders and football mean to the province compared to other parts of the country.

I think back to the time when I was living in Toronto, a place dominated by one sport, and one team - hockey's Maple Leafs.

The other sports in Toronto - football included - fall subject to the whims of the bandwagon-jumping Toronto fans and their ridiculous expectations. The CFL has to scrap and claw every week for its share of attention in the Toronto sports marketplace.

There is the sense there - unfair perhaps - that the Toronto Argonauts are just not major-league enough for the city's tastes, or worse yet, an endangered species. It is the Leafs, not the Argos, that are recipients of the fans' and media's obsession there.

It's much different in Saskatchewan. That's something I noticed immediately upon my move back to the province a few years ago.

The first thing I noticed when I crossed the Manitoba border were all the Roughriders CFL items on sale in convenience stores. When we stopped at one gas station in a small town along the Trans-Canada highway, I noticed Riders jerseys and souvenir items on sale - plus a few Corner Gas items.

Another thing I noticed when I settled back to life in the province was the utter domination of Riders media coverage on local radio and TV. Practically every time Darian Durant goes to the washroom, you hear about it in the press.

The utter obsession of people covering the Riders is infectious. Radio commentator John Lynch in particular treats everything that happens with the Riders as if it is life or death. The Argos can only wish they had that kind of coverage.

You especially notice the enthusiasm of people on game days - particularly the long lines of traffic on highways leading to Regina. You can tell they are going to the Rider game because the cars are always decked out in Riders flags or sporting one of those new Riders license-plates that Premier Brad Wall recently brought in.

In Saskatchewan, football isn't something you do while waiting for the hockey season to start. Football is part of life in the province.

When the team wins, the province gets a lift. When they lose, the entire province bleeds along with them. I remember the atmosphere here in the Battlefords the day after the Grey Cup last year. It was as if someone had died.

Heck, I remember the atmosphere here after they lost to the lousy Edmonton Eskimos two weeks ago. Talk about a population in a panic over the results of one football game.

You get the impression in other parts of Canada, though, this type of reaction is reserved for their local NHL teams, not their football teams.

Saskatchewan is unique because there is no NHL team. Indeed, there is no one single hockey team to rally around, period. When hockey season arrives the province splits into various camps cheering for the Blades or Pats or Raiders or Warriors or Broncos, or the Mustangs or Ice Wolves or Terriers or Klippers or Bruins or North Stars you name the team, or the league.

Saskatchewan fans don't have any other choice in which to channel their singular, province-wide passion; it's the football Riders or nothing.

As a result the Riders become the one great unifying force linking the entire province every time football season rolls around. Because the Riders are Saskatchewan's only pro team, the games really do mean more in Saskatchewan than they would for fans in other cities around Canada. We really are riding on every result.

It's also the one team in the province that can command national attention. When crews from TSN come in to Saskatchewan to broadcast a game to all of Canada, chances are that team is the Riders.

As a result the Saskatchewan Roughriders have come to represent something few sports teams are able to pull off. They symbolize the province.

They are part of the fabric of Saskatchewan along with the wheat fields, grain elevators and potash mines. When people talk about the events of the day, they'll ask (a) what impact the weather is having on the crops, and (b) the fate of the Riders.

It reminds me of what you see in the United States. When I tune into broadcasts of far-away stations on the radio during football season - stations from Texas or Louisiana or Oklahoma - you hear the same kind of passion for football down there that you see up here.

This is why the fall is a time of year I really look forward to. It's the time of year when football gets into full swing and we get to see the passion and the pride that other football fans throughout North America have for their teams and leagues.

When you see it, you are reminded Saskatchewan fans aren't alone in their passion for the game. We're just as crazy as they are down there, darn it! It's comforting to know our passion for football is something we all have in common.

Summer may be ending, but fall belongs to football. To quote an old Riders marketing slogan, the best is yet to come.