Little on the prairie
Bombers get usual treatment from in Regina
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