Saskatchewan·First Person

Faith, love and football: How the Saskatchewan Roughriders captured my heart

Nothing can explain why talented young men choose to spend six months (in a normal year) far from home and family to play a challenging sport here in our little-known province. Nothing but faith and love.

I love these players like a grandmother

B.C. Lions quarterback Michael Reilly (13) gets away from Saskatchewan Roughriders' Micah Johnson as he runs with the ball during the first half of a CFL football game in Vancouver, on Friday, September 24, 2021. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

This First Person piece was written by Shannon Hengen, who was raised in Saskatchewan and taught university in northern Ontario before retiring and returning home.

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My love of football in general and the Saskatchewan Roughriders in particular started to intrigue me when I saw an interview with our 6-foot-2, 258 pound, Georgia-born defensive tackle Micah Johnson. 

I noticed his dimples.

My brain associates dimples with little girls in pretty dresses. And so I stared and stared at him. Those dimples are remarkable. Nothing can explain them.

My devoted love of the game and the team is improbable as well. Love? Really? Yes. I love them like a grandmother: caring about whether the players are happy and healthy, wanting them to do well, listening intently to their interviews, imagining their families.

The reasonable, adult part of me scoffs at that grandma. She answers back that her attachment to this team is like faith — which is a good thing.

Nothing can explain why talented young men like Micah Johnson choose to spend six months (in a normal year) far from home and family to play a challenging sport here in our little-known province. Nothing but faith and love — love of the game, the brotherhood, and possibly even the fans and our chilly town.

On a lawn In Regina's cathedral neighbourhood stands a large banner  with Roughrider logos  flanked by sparkly angels with trumpets. In block letters, green on white, it declares, "KEEP THE FAITH." The banner is not our lawn, but we pass it often. And to it I say, "amen."

A banner in Regina's Cathedral neighbourhood asks fellow Riders to keep the faith. (Shannon Hengen)

Shouldn't such faith make me feel foolish? A slightly arthritic old gal who reads poetry, stops to pet all neighbourhood cats and sings hymns loudly in church would never be seen as a typical football fan. Isn't it a brutal game? 

Yet here I am, devoted to the players and the game. Hoping these young men will stay well. Cringing when I hear that redundant-sounding penalty, "unnecessary roughness," when even what appears to be necessary roughness looks quite bad to me.

Coincidentally, I stood next to Loucheiz Purifoy, Florida-born Rider cornerback (what's a cornerback?), in the checkout line at the Rider Store a few weeks ago, soon after the dimples revelation. I had to restrain myself from embracing him! Instead, I allowed myself a gentle, somewhat grandma-like, but sporty fist bump on his shoulder. Under my breath I whispered, "thank you."

Backing the Saskatchewan Roughriders is more like conventional kinds of faith than reason might dictate. Our Canadian players fuel the aspirations of countless young athletes across the country, making them believe. Isn't that inspiring? Doesn't it look like the beginnings of faith?

This love of mine is not rational. It cannot be explained. I have only the most basic knowledge of how football works. I see clearly the damage it can do.

Yet when I watch a beautiful pass, a brilliant run, a clever tackle, an interception, a high-spiralling kick — each as impossible as those dimples — I feel wonder and awe.

The football season heats up as the temperatures fall. I hum "Green is the colour" to myself while crocheting, and I holler out that wonderful line, "the best is yet to come!"

OK I lied about the crocheting, but everything else is true. Believe me.

Interested in writing for us? We accept pitches for Opinion and First Person pieces from Saskatchewan residents who want to share their thoughts on the news of the day, issues affecting their community or who have a compelling personal story to share. No need to be a professional writer!

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Raised in Saskatchewan, Shannon Hengen taught university in northern Ontario before retiring and returning home.


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