Doc se­ries opens with Rider fans’ en­dur­ing love

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - BRAD OSWALD

GIVEN the over­whelm­ing suc­cess of U.S. ca­ble-sports net­work ESPN’s in­no­va­tive 30 for 30 se­ries, it was only a mat­ter of time un­til its Cana­dian cousin, TSN, took an ag­gres­sive run at pro­duc­ing its own col­lec­tion of off­beat sports doc­u­men­taries.

And if the first cou­ple of in­stal­ments in the new Grey Cupin­spired se­ries En­graved On a Na­tion are any in­di­ca­tion, TSN re­ally has — to em­ploy an en­tirely in­ap­pro­pri­ate wrong-sport metaphor — knocked it out of the park.

Like 30 for 30, which was pro­duced a cou­ple of years back as a cel­e­bra­tion of ESPN’s 30th an­niver­sary, this new north-of-the-bor­der se­ries is in­tended to com­mem­o­rate a sports mile­stone — in this case, the 100th Grey Cup game, which will be played in Toronto next month.

En­graved On a Na­tion is com­prised of eight films, cov­er­ing a wide va­ri­ety of top­ics and more than 70 years of CFL his­tory. Like the 30 for 30 ex­per­i­ment, the em­pha­sis here seems to be on un­earthing fas­ci­nat­ing, lesser­known sto­ries rather than re­vis­it­ing the more ob­vi­ous and oft-told ones.

The se­ries kicks off on Thanks­giv­ing Mon­day (6:30 p.m., af­ter the Riders-Ar­gos tilt) with The 13th Man, an af­fec­tion­ate ex­am­i­na­tion of Saskatchewan’s en­dur­ing love for its CFL team and an in-depth dis­sec­tion of the too-many­men penalty that robbed the Riders of a Grey Cup win in 2009 and tested the re­solve of the team’s faith­ful fans.

Pro­duced by Win­nipeg-based Fran­tic Films and di­rected by Larry Weinstein, The 13th Man — which, in this con­text, refers to both the ra­bid fans’ sym­bolic role in Rider vic­to­ries and the ex­tra player whose pres­ence gave the Montreal Alou­ettes a sec­ond try at a game-win­ning field goal — is so well pre­sented that even a hard-core Blue Bomber fan would have to ad­mit it’s a great hour of TV.

In de­scrib­ing the prov­ince’s all-en­com­pass­ing in­fat­u­a­tion for the Riders, jour­nal­ist Eric An­der­son of­fers this:

“It sounds so bad, but it’s all we have. It sounds so pa­thetic, be­cause ... maybe we should have other things. Maybe we should have an NHL team, or maybe The 13th Man — Mon­day at 6:30 p.m. Stone Thrower: The Chuck Ea­ley Story — Fri­day at 9:30 p.m.

TSN

out of five we should have other stuff. We have potash, but you can’t get be­hind potash. So we get be­hind the Riders — ev­ery­body in this prov­ince.”

And by ev­ery­body, he re­ally does mean ev­ery­body — from su­per­mar­ket man­ager Brent Kamin­ski, who ex­plains that his du­ti­ful staff will help Rider fans pick just the right wa­ter­melon to turn into a game-day hel­met, to a Regina nun named Sis­ter Rosetta, who has a green­ish-hued in­ter­pre­ta­tion of God’s divine plan.

“I think God re­ally loves the Riders,” she says. “Now, we know that God loves ev­ery­body, so he loves ev­ery team. But God does have a green and white Rider shirt on.”

It’s a charm­ing film that be­comes wrench­ing when the fo­cus turns to the 2009 Grey Cup, which re­duced grown men — in the stands, and in the Riders’ locker room — to tears.

The sec­ond film in the En­graved On a Na­tion se­ries, which airs Fri­day (ap­prox. 9:30 p.m., af­ter the B.C.-Hamil­ton game), is Stone Thrower: The Chuck Ea­ley Story. It’s a much more se­ri­ous of­fer­ing than the Rider-fan fest, but is equally worth watch­ing.

Stone Thrower pro­files for­mer CFL quar­ter­back Ea­ley, who ar­rived in Canada in 1972 af­ter hav­ing achieved the near-im­pos­si­ble by as­sem­bling an un­de­feated record (53-0) as a start­ing QB in high school and col­lege. De­spite hav­ing been the best at his po­si­tion, he was passed over in the NFL draft be­cause that league’s own­ers and coaches were still some years away from ac­cept­ing the no­tion that an African-Amer­i­can could play quar­ter­back at the pro­fes­sional level.

The film (whose ti­tle refers to the fact Ea­ley, as a young­ster, used to prac­tise his pass­ing ac­cu­racy by toss­ing rocks at mov­ing trains) ac­tu­ally fo­cuses mostly on his dif­fi­cult up­bring- ing and high-school/col­lege ca­reer; only his cup-win­ning rookie sea­son with Hamil­ton is men­tioned, and the rest of his CFL ca­reer (in­clud­ing two sea­sons in Win­nipeg) is ig­nored.

But given the story that led him to Canada, it isn’t an un­fair omis­sion. Stone Thrower is an in­spir­ing film that will leave grid­iron-in­clined view­ers anx­ious to see what the rest of En­graved On a Na­tion has to of­fer.

TSN PHO­TOS

Kamin­ski (right) helps Rider Na­tion mem­bers pick the right game-day

head­wear.

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