© Austin M. Davis
A member of the Regina Police Service high-fived Riders fans on the Green Mile on Sunday night after the Saskatchewan Roughriders defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 45-23 at Mosaic Stadium.
Before teams took the field for the 101st Grey Cup, Regina was already transformed.
Early Sunday afternoon, the province’s capital was unrecognizable. The decorations and atmosphere added to the intensity, but the change encompassed every sense.
The city where I was born and raised even smelled different. The air tasted a little sweeter, but that might have just been because it was warm.
Rider Nation’s faithful marched through the slush on the sidewalks and streets several hours before kickoff. The stream of green was endless.
I adjusted to the sounds of helicopters constantly flying over the city and the constant honking of car horns.
This was seven hours before the Saskatchewan Roughriders won the Canadian Football League (CFL) championship at home for the first time ever.
Any memories I made in Regina before Nov. 24 did not compare to this.
It was not the Regina that bored me as a teenager. It was not the Regina that has watched thousands of its young people move elsewhere. It was not the Regina with the disproportionally high crime and homelessness rates.
Sunday felt different, but it didn’t feel forced or unnatural.
The Grey Cup in Saskatchewan was the organic progression of a province ready to showcase its momentum to the rest of Canada.
That momentum applies to a lot more than football.
While Saskatchewanians can — and will — argue about the right approach to a natural resource boom and whether the province should still have a film tax credit, we are united in our devotion to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Green-and-white is a way of life here, partially because the province has only one professional sports team.
In painful irony, Saskatchewan, the province that produces the most National Hockey League (NHL) players per capita, is between two provinces with NHL teams.
So, the people have clung to the Riders, a franchise that has now won four championships in over 100 years.
My understanding of Rider Nation’s passion compelled me to write last week’s column about the chances and consequences of a riot following a Riders Grey Cup loss. “The city burns if we lose, and the city burns if we win,” said a fan at the game.
The Riders won by 22 points and the city didn’t burn. Instead, Regina shone.
Regina’s busiest street became the Green Mile. It might not have gone on for a full mile, but it sure was green.
Adults cried. Strangers hugged each other and waved flags as fireworks shot off the top of city hall.
I stood in the very middle of the intersection at Albert Street and Victoria Avenue. I watched fans high-five police officers. The party was never close to getting out of control. Officers spent most of their time dumping the contents of endless beer cans. Nobody I saw got mad about that.
During the Grey Cup, the Saskatchewan Roughriders stepped into the spotlight, finally ready to silence “the haters” in front of the country. During the week, and on Sunday night, the non football-playing people of this province did the same thing.
Austin M. Davis can be reached at 306-691-1258 or follow him on Twitter @theAustinX.