[b] Riders fans bring the noise Stubblejumpers smart enough to be loudest when they can rattle the opposition quarterback [/b] Will the Saskatchewan Roughriders have home-field advantage Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium?
It's a fair question. With the way it is with the fanatical support of Riders Nation and an Edmonton crowd which has long seen themselves more as being spectators than participants, the matchup in the stands may be as interesting as the one on the field.
A significant percentage of the population of the province of Saskatchewan is headed here to be part of the largest crowd in the CFL this season.
Edmonton traditionally has the best fans in the league in terms of attendance. And after 46,212 for Calgary and with a leave-the-tarps-on-the-seats-in-the-endzone sellout of about 55,000 projected for Saturday, the flagship franchise will once again lead the league. But while they pay their dollar, they don't holler.
LIVE AMONG US
It's impossible not to be in awe of the Saskatchewan fans who live among us and travel great distances from neighbouring provinces in either direction to come watch their team play in the big stadium in Edmonton where they rub it in with a billboard like the one which has been outside Commonwealth Stadium all month: "Hey Eskies fans! We'll save a section for you!"
It's hard not to be green with envy experiencing how Saskatchewan fans can put themselves into play and be a factor, like no other fans in the league or, for that matter, in all of Canadian sport.
"They're a crowd that knows how to cheer for a football team," said Eskimos quarterback Ricky Ray who beat both the Roughriders and Saskatchewan fans twice this year in Mosaic Stadium, a significant accomplishment.
"The best thing a crowd can do is make it as tough as you can on them when they head to the line of scrimmage and in Regina I have to yell in the huddle just to call the play," said Ray.
"On short yardage plays it's hard for even the tackles to hear me. They make it tough on you."
Eskimos GM Danny Maciocia never appreciated Saskatchewan fans more until coming to Regina this year no longer wearing the headset on the sidelines.
"It is definitely uplifting for the home team," he said. "You can't imagine how much the home team feeds off it. As a coach, it's hard to hear yourself think. It's hard to communicate with the guys in the spotters box. Think about how hard it is for the players out there.
"It gets louder and louder as Ricky breaks the huddle. It becomes even more difficult on second and short, on third down plays and on goal line plays."
Sunday, Maciocia believes, they took it to a new level.
"It felt like the stadium was shaking," he said.
"It was the only time through my CFL career I've seen a crowd that came out of their seats so many times when the visiting team's quarterback broke the huddle. When Ricky broke the huddle they all stood up and got louder and louder with each step he took toward the line of scrimmage.
"It's like they were urging everybody next to them to stand and scream. That's as close as I've seen to the college experience where you can buy good seats but never get to sit in them.
"The energy Saskatchewan fans bring to the game is unbelievable. They're going crazy. They have a reputation of taking it to another level and it's like they feel they have to uphold it. They want to create that type of environment for the team.
"They want you to believe there's a 13th man out there and one play there actually was a 13th guy out there," he said of the Eskimos having been stuffed on third and goal from the one only to get a fresh set of downs when the Roughriders were called for too many men on the field.
The trouble is that Saskatchewan fans take their show on the road.
"When we play at home against them it sometimes makes it feel like we're on the road," said Ray.
"It definitely gives them an advantage.
"Because of its size, our stadium is the toughest of all of them to create the environment for the home team. The fans aren't right on top of you like in Regina. And unless you have 50,000 in there, the fans can be a little separated from each other."
In Edmonton and Calgary the teams employ a disc jockey to push the league rules to urge the fans to make noise at the appropriate moments. But Edmonton fans finally seem to be getting off their hands and getting the hang of it.
"Our crowds are getting better, especially in the fourth quarter," said CEO Rick LeLacheur.
"It was great at the end of our first game against Calgary and the end of the game against Hamilton. They really got into it," said Ray.
"We need it like that for the whole game."
Especially this game.TERRY.JONES@SUNMEDIA.CA
This should be a good game. Bring it Edmonton.