25 things to know about Saskatchewan Roughriders | Football | CBC Sports

CFL25 things to know about Saskatchewan Roughriders

Posted: Thursday, November 21, 2013 | 11:30 AM

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Kent Austin hoists the Grey Cup to the delight of local Roughriders fans at the Legislative Building in Regina on Nov. 27, 2007. (Troy Fleece/Canadian Press) Kent Austin hoists the Grey Cup to the delight of local Roughriders fans at the Legislative Building in Regina on Nov. 27, 2007. (Troy Fleece/Canadian Press)

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Here are 25 things you may not know about the Saskatchewan Roughriders, unless you live in the province where this is old wheat chaff.

Researching another piece took me back to some old books and articles and the realization that no team in the Canadian Football League has had as colourful or, ultimately, as painful a history as the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

This is a team, after all, that has been to the dance 18 times before this year - and won three of them.

Here are 25 things you may not know about the Riders... unless you live in Saskatchewan, where this is old wheat chaff:

1. When the Regina Rugby Club was formed in 1910, it had originally been meant to be a rowing team and would work out on the lake in the middle of town created when a dam was put across the creek. Who would want to row when you could pound on each other in the muck?

2. Regina became part of the Western Canada Rugby Football Union in 1911. The trophy for league champ was donated by Winnipeg real estate tycoon Hugh Ross. Six months later, he went down on the RMS Titanic.

3. The club became the Regina Roughriders in 1924, setting off a long-running dispute with the city of Ottawa. The team there had been Rough Riders since 1898, but decided in 1924 to change the name to Senators for 1925. Seeing the chance, Regina grabbed the moniker with, of course, the slight spelling switch. Ottawa took the name back for itself in 1931. So ethically, Regina didn't steal the name, Ottawa did.

4. Regina wore red-and-black uniforms for more than three decades, but switched to green and white in 1946 because, according to the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, team executive Jack Fyffe was poking around a sports surplus store in Chicago and found a complete set of unis in the new colours. Financial need trumped tradition. Imagine if they had been purple and gold? Oh wait, those were the first Regina colours.

5. In 1948, teams in Saskatoon and Moose Jaw folded and it was thought changing the name from "Regina" to "Saskatchewan" Roughriders would be a nice gesture. Not all fans in Regina thought this was a great idea and many refused to call the team anything else.

6. The first appearance for Regina in a Grey Cup game, at a time when the Western product was running well back of the East for lack of viable opponents, was in 1923. RRC lost 54-0 to Queen's University.

7. Between 1928 and 1934, the Riders made it to six Grey Cup games, losing all of them, despite the fact that one year a local astrologist checked the alignment of the moon and stars and guaranteed a victory. The astrologist was not named Joe Namath.

8. That 1928 game was the first Grey Cup broadcast on radio.

9. History records Regina as the first major club in Canada to use the forward pass. The Canadian Rugby Union (controllers of the Grey Cup) banned the play in 1930. It came back in 1931 when everyone realized the CRU were a bunch of grumpy old farts.

10. The Riders went 0-8 in Grey Cup games up through 1951 and were outscored a combined 197-41 by the Hamilton Tigers (three times), Queen's, Toronto Balmy Beach, Montreal AAA Winged Wheelers, Sarnia Imperials and Rough Riders.

11. Author Steven Thiele tells a great story from 1931 when the Riders went to Montreal, saw the frozen field and came up with an idea. They ordered some tennis and box-lacrosse shoes from a local sports store and asked for delivery to the stadium. They never arrived. After both clubs slid around for a half, the Riders came out for the second to find Montreal wearing their shoes. The delivery boy had taken them to the wrong dressing room. Montreal ran away with the Grey Cup.

12. An improving Saskatchewan club was devastated in 1956 when stars Gordon Sturtridge, Mel Beckett, Ray Syrnyk and Mario DeMarco were killed in a commercial plane crash in B.C., coming back from the All-Star Game.

13. Aw, don't even mention it.

14. Legendary running back George Reed, a Hall of Famer and the most beloved of all who wore the green and white, was in four Grey Cups and won one of them.

15. Back in 1985, the Riders added silver and black to their green-and-white colour scheme and introduced a flashy new helmet decal. Since then, they have played three Grey Cups wearing the new decal and gone 2-1. They played two with the old wheat sheaf and lost both. The equipment guys might want to keep that in mind for Sunday.

16. Saskatchewan was one of the dominant teams in the CFL from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, going to five Grey Cup games in 11 years.

-In 1966, Ronnie Lancaster, Alan Ford, Reed and the boys led the Riders to their first victory, beating Ottawa 29-14. During the third quarter, Lancaster threw a bullet to "Gluey" Hughie Campbell for what would be the winning score. He bobbled it, held on for the signal, fell over and had the ball pop out. I've looked at the thing 60 times, Ottawa fans. He held on, ok?

-In 1967, Hamilton came in on a six-game streak of not giving up more than seven points to an opponent. Saskatchewan scored on a quick kick by Alan Ford that went 87 yards for a rouge. They just couldn't tackle that day, either. Heck of a way to celebrate Canada's centennial.

-In 1969, rumours flew that Ottawa quarterback Russ Jackson and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau might be in danger of an attack by the FLQ terrorist group. It didn't help the Green Riders at all, who fell 29-11.

-In 1972, Tony Gabriel caught three passes in the last two minutes as rookie quarterback Chuck Ealey led Hamilton to an upset win over the Riders on an Ian Sunter field goal as time expired. This was a lesson Saskatchewan's defence somehow forgot because...

-In 1976, Gabriel caught the winning touchdown with 19 seconds to go as Ottawa came back to beat Saskatchewan. Everyone knew Gabriel was going to get this pass, it seems, except the Riders secondary.

17. Since Y2K, Saskatchewan has been one of the CFL's dominant clubs, reaching the Grey Cup four times, same as B.C. That's more than Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto and Hamilton. Montreal has the most visits, by the way, with eight (because the East was horrible for so long).

18. The Riders were league laughing stocks from 1978 to 1987, a stretch that saw them go 50-109-5 and compile just one winning record (9-7 in 1981). Attendance plummeted because Saskatchewan fans may be tremendously loyal, but they aren't stupid.

19. Saskatchewan finished 9-9 in 1989, despite going through a horrid stretch of six losses in eight games.

20. When the Riders beat Calgary on the road in the 1989 West semifinal and Edmonton on the road in the West final and then Hamilton in the Grey Cup at Toronto, the travel costs almost bankrupted the club.

21. The sudden rise of the Riders to respectability happened to coincide with the arrival of Donald Narcisse, the greatest receiver to ever strap on pads for the Green guys. Yes, even better than Ray Elgaard - and better than almost anybody who played in this country.

22. Ron Lancaster played 19 years in the CFL, 16 in Regina. He threw for 50,535 yards, 333 touchdowns and won the 1966 Grey Cup, one of five he played in. He then went on to win Grey Cups as head coach in Edmonton and Hamilton. That Tiger-Cats victory, in 1999, is the last The Hammer has taken (eight wins overall).

23. Lancaster is the second-most important link between the Hamilton and Saskatchewan franchises and his spirit - "The Little General" died in 2008 - will be on both sidelines. We miss you, Ronnie.

24. Which brings us to current Ticats head coach Kent Austin. Of the Riders' three Grey Cups, he led them to two - as a quarterback in 1989 and as head coach in 2007. Both times, Austin left the club for greener pastures. Talk about confusing.

25. Gainer the Gopher absolutely rocks.

Follow Malcolm Kelly on Twitter @sportsnag

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