David Mamet's acerbic look at Hollywood descending on a small town in Waterford, Vermont was a sharp biting satire that's been circling around my brain of late. But I couldn't pinpoint why exactly I was thinking about this story of small-town residents initially all too ready to give up their values for showbiz glitz. Then it clicked. In the film, the townspeople greet each other with "Go, you Huskies!", in reference to an upcoming football game between their beloved Waterford Huskies and another team.
And everywhere I've gone this week...every coffee shop, every store checkout counter, even just walking down the street, all I've heard is: "Go Green Go!"
The Saskatchewan Roughriders are Regina's team (or depending on which ad campaign, Saskatchewan's team...or even Canada's team)...yes, the 'ol green and white.
"Green is the colour
And football is the game..."
Like Henshaw at the Legion, I was a huge fanboy of the team in my youth. And my heart was also broken when Tony Gabriel made that game-winning catch for Ottawa in '76. But then, as the era of Reed and Lancaster and McQuarters and Baker came to an end, my interest and enthusiasm started to wane. The Riders couldn't win to save their lives, and even with their small comeback and Grey Cup win of '89, they slid right back into doldrumville.
I moved away from Regina, and the Riders were dead to me.
Then, after spending a dozen or so years away from small city Saskatchewan, I returned....and was shocked when paying a visit to an old high school friend to have him (and his wife and his kids) greet me at the door with their faces painted green and white. And wearing Rider jerseys. Because you see, it was game day.
The town was still crazy about their team, and full of what's locally known as Rider Pride. Win or lose (and mostly lose), you'd still see pep rallies and tailgate parties and stadium sell-outs week after week after week. To the casual observer, this kind of devotion might seem kinda sweet, or quaint...but there's devotion, and then there's blind devotion.
This is a team that two weeks ago hosted their first home playoff game since 1988; who prior to this year was only able to put together one other season with a record above .500 record since 1994; who during that twelve year stretch missed the playoffs 6 times (in a division with only four teams and the top three make it into the post season).
And that was on the playing field. Off the field, it was even worse.
Marty Rosen (Producer): What's with you and 14 year old girls?
Bob Barrenger (Movie Star): Everybody needs a hobby.
Here is a publicly-known list of some of the more recent indiscretions (from Bruce Arthur's article in today's National Post entitled: 'Riders Now Worthy Of Fan's Love'.
In 1999, it was defensive back Terryl Ulmer, and cocaine trafficking. Defensive back Davin Bush was convicted of assault in an incident outside a nightclub in 2001; defensive lineman Shont'e Peoples was charged with marijuana possession in 2003; running back Saladin McCullough and receivers Jamel Richardson and Emery Beckles were charged with assault in 2004. And then came Smith.
That case was the storm, as the defensive lineman was charged and later convicted of having sex with two women despite knowing he was HIV positive. It turned out that the Riders had known Smith's medical status for more than a year, but had not only not disclosed it -- they were barred by medical privacy laws --but let him continue to play.
Smith was eventually sentenced to six years in prison. It was a betrayal of trust.
There were more incidents --a bar fight involving running back Kenton Keith, and an arrest for troubled running back Hakim Hill, who was released by the Riders last February.
Believe me, having done a little digging myself...this article is only scratching the surface of a big ugly scab.
It all added up to players and coaches with primarily selfish agenda's: play mediocre football, make a little money, and take advantage of the 'rock star' treatment they all received. And a town that year after disappointing year was willing to put up with it.
When I confronted my old high school mate (and many others) with this reality, the response was pretty universal: "Oh, it's not that bad. Just a few rotten apples, that's all...", or, "Well, let's see about next year...give 'em one more chance."
Bob Barrenger: Only second chance I know, is the chance to make the same mistake twice.
Marty Rossen: If your memory was as long as your dick, you'd be in good shape.
And I found myself wondering: what's worse...the players that took advantage of their undeserved 'celebrity'? Or the townspeople who let 'celebrity' rule the roost?
This year, under new management, the Riders find themselves in the Grey Cup against Winnipeg. So congrats seem to be in order for an 'on the field' turnaround. As for off the field, it appears somewhat cleaned up by all accounts. But what's interesting is the call for change didn't seem to come from the fans, or even from the community (who actually own shares in the team). Unlike the town in State And Main, who eventually rise up and fight back with principles and morals and values and integrity to shame and show up the big movie in town, Regina and its Rider fans seem instead to have adopted some sort of a 'good or bad...we'll take whatever we get' attitude. And as for the teams tawdry recent past? It seems already forgotten.
Now, a few of my more reasonable friends who aren't so quick to forget, still claim that a Grey Cup victory this weekend should erase the embarrassment of the past decade and provide redemption for the ol' green and white. And at least on paper, the Riders should win. The Bluebombers are a decent squad but not a powerhouse, not to mention they lost their starting quarterback to a broken arm last week. The Riders are also beat up, but not to the same extent.
Nevertheless, I'll be pulling for Winnipeg on Sunday. Rider redemption shouldn't come so quick. Or be so easy.
Go, you Bombers.