Lit­tle on the prairie

Bombers get usual treat­ment from in Regina

SundayXtra - - FRONT PAGE - By Ed Tait

REGINA — The Win­nipeg Blue Bombers hadn’t set­tled into the Saskatchewan cap­i­tal for long when head coach Mike O’Shea got his first taste of the Prairie ver­sion of the Labour Day Clas­sic.

Step­ping out­side the team’s ho­tel, O’Shea was greeted — lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively — by the fa­nati­cism this prov­ince has with its team.

“I saw a re­ally sweet Saskatchewan Roughrider beer fridge in the back of a pickup truck right by our ho­tel,” said O’Shea on the eve of the 51st Labour Day Clas­sic, “and (the driver) man­aged to roll down the win­dow and yell at me.”

Asked if he was of­fered a warm wel­come to Regina, O’Shea grinned and added:

“Sort of... not re­ally in those terms. It was a Regina wel­come. It’s all good. They buy tick­ets and sup­port their team. It’s all good fun.”

Fun? Yeah, sure. But it’s also part of what makes the back­drop to the an­nual Prairie show­down between the Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughrid­ers dif­fer­ent than what has be­come the norm over the last decade.

This Clas­sic just doesn’t feel dif­fer­ent be­cause both the Bombers and Rid­ers have win­ning records and are very much in the fight for play­off spots in the West Di­vi­sion with the sec­ond half of the sea­son loom­ing.

It feels dif­fer­ent be­cause of the vibe O’Shea and his crew bring into this game. In years past — try the last nine, all Rider wins — the Bombers have of­ten rolled into Regina a mess on and off the field. And as a re­sult the Clas­sic has re­cently served up all the drama of a watch­ing a mon­ster truck rolling over a speed bump.

But this 2014 Bomber out­fit, which al­ready has as many road wins — three — as last year’s sad sacks man­aged all sea­son, seems to be de­vel­op­ing an iden­tity. It might best be de­scribed as the foot­ball equiv­a­lent of the wrestling heel — those bad-asses that seem to rel­ish strut­ting into en­emy ter­ri­tory amid a cho­rus of boos and take great glee in tor­ment­ing the lo­cal he­roes.

Now, it takes a cer­tain men­tal tough­ness to take on that role and all the ver­bal abuse that comes with it. And, make no mis­take, Rider fans will be on the Bombers from the mo­ment they step on the field Sun­day af­ter­noon to the fi­nal gun.

“What’s it like on the visi­tor side­line?” said for­mer Bomber Bren­don LaBatte af­ter the Rid­ers walk-through prac­tice on Satur­day. “Well, first of all you get it non-stop. Our fans are pretty crafty and pretty clever. They do their home­work and re­search. You get an ear­ful.

“One time it was the fourth quar­ter and I was get­ting close to having a calf cramp. I went

JOHN WOODS / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

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