The following is an essay I wrote after reading sambo's "Flagship Franchise" thread in the main forum.
My name is Mongo, and I’m a closet Rider fan.
I’ve been following the CFL now for over a quarter-century, and I completely love the game. I started out being an Argo fan when I attended my first game in 1980 at the old Exhibition Stadium against the original incarnation of the Montréal Alouettes. As a then 9-year old boy, I was intrigued by the larger field, the 3 downs of play, and to be perfectly honest, I liked the Argo cheerleaders – what can I say? I was an early developer.
Over the years, my fandom of the league grew to appreciate the nuances and fan bases of the other teams across the league. I’ve attended CFL games in six cities over the years; including attending a Baltimore Stallions match-up against the Argos at the old Baltimore Memorial Stadium in 1995. I will always remember that contest for a banner I saw being carried by a couple Stallions’ fans that read, “The CFL is alive and well. The NFL can go to hell.? It was a shame that the city and the NFL forced the most successful franchise of the seven that had set up shop in American territory out of town, but am relieved they relocated to become the current incarnation of the Alouettes. But getting back to my original point, I have seen the different fan groups across the league. I’ve sat on the uncomfortable metal planks that lay on top of the concrete slabs of Percival Molson Stadium in Montréal. I’ve heard the whole “Ti-Cats s.uck!? “Argos s.uck!? chants at Exhibition Stadium, SkyDome/Rogers Centre, and Ivor Wynne Stadium. I’ve even taken in a couple match-ups at a now deteriorating Frank Clair Stadium in Ottawa, complete with their own original chant, “North Side s.ucks!? However, the one fan group that has mystified and intrigued me in the same breath, are the fans of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
I had known about the aura of “Rider Priders? from early on in my CFL fandom life when I would catch the Riders on CBC broadcasts and observed a fan who called himself “The Flame.? He would carry a reconfigured bullhorn, and a don a modified helmet which had a propane burner on top of it. I saw this as a child and was in awe of such a fanatic. I know there are fans elsewhere that showcase their fandom in their own fashion, but since he was the first vivid example I had ever seen, I was blown away. However, I never really obtained a grasp of how dedicated these fans were until 1992 when I attended my first ever Grey Cup. That year, the game featured Calgary against Winnipeg at the Dome in Toronto, and while the person I attended the game with and I were waiting to enter the stadium, we saw a contingent of Rider fans awaiting entry to the game too. At the time, we both were puzzled why fans of a team who wasn’t even playing in the game would show up wearing their home team’s colours. It wasn’t until years and three other Grey Cup games I attended in the future that I became to realise that the Grey Cup is a league-wide party where CFL fans from every corner of the country can congregate together and celebrate the great game we’ve all come to know and enjoy. Yet, despite that point, “Rider Nation? was still a mystery to me. I would not grow to understand its reaches for over a decade since that Sunday evening in November 1992.
It was about four or five years ago I became a member of the CFL forums, and it was there I observed how there are passionate fans of the league in every CFL jurisdiction. Sure, there are some that like to be braggarts or troll the forums in a bid to rile fans from other teams on a constant basis; Lord knows I’ve been accused of doing as such, but it was an attempt to try and put the original offending trolls and annoyances back in their place. However, it was on these forums that I saw the broader scope of Rider fans. I had still noticed from games I had attended and watched on television since the 1992 Grey Cup that “Rider Nation? still had a strong following in various stadiums across the league, despite their lack of success nee their 1989 Grey Cup victory over Hamilton in Toronto. It was during my tenure on the forums that I befriended a fellow CFL fan, a Rider fan to boot. They helped open my eyes to the full scope of “Rider Pride? and I began to better understand that fans of the Green & White are passionate about their team and the league. It is something that is an attractive package to someone who has followed this great Canadian game for the majority of his life.
This past off-season, the Argos had partnered up with the Buffalo Bills of the NFL to host three pre-season and five regular season games in Toronto over the next five years. In concern with this “unholy trinity? I had switched my main fandom to the rival Ti-Cats, and even with them I feel my love for the Canadian game is threatened. Deep down, my heart still longs for a team with fans that are passionate and will not stand for management to sell them out to American interests. A fan base that despite all of the trials and tribulations will stand by their team through the best of times and the worst of times. A fan base like the one I observed and embraced during the 2007 Grey Cup festivities in Toronto. Rider Nation is the most passionate and dedicated group of fans I have ever witnessed. And that is why, on this day, that I, Mongo, have come forth and confess that deep down, I too am a Rider fan.