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Liam Wolsey, 10, from Lethbridge, Alta. attends his first Grey Cup complete with Watermelon head Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Sunday, November 28, 2010. (Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail/Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail)
Liam Wolsey, 10, from Lethbridge, Alta. attends his first Grey Cup complete with Watermelon head Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Sunday, November 28, 2010. (Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail/Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail)

Grey Cup

In Rider Nation, 'the love of the game' trumps all Add to ...

In a crowd of more than 60,000 screaming fans, Ethel Wilson can rightly be considered a superfan - Sunday's league championship was the 52nd consecutive Grey Cup game she's attended.

And though her hometown Hamilton Tiger-Cats didn't make it to the event, the 89-year-old doesn't hesitate in saying where her sympathies lie.

"Oh, Saskatchewan of course," insists Ms. Wilson, whose late husband was a Riders fan. "Saskatchewan is just like our own family. They're nice people."

She and three girlfriends got themselves tickets, valued at more than $200 a piece, and kept them safely in a sealed plastic bag before the game. Ms. Wilson, who works as a manager at a Wendy's restaurant, wouldn't consider missing a Grey Cup.

"I enjoy every one of them," she says.

Ms. Wilson was among the majority as Sunday's sellout crowd was dominated by Saskatchewan Roughriders fans. Many wore the traditional watermelon helmet; others braved the cold weather by wearing little more than a pair of shorts.

The game was the crowning moment of a five-day party in Edmonton, where hotel rooms were at a premium and the transit system struggled to accommodate a surge of fans. A parade Saturday drew thousands to the downtown core, where a host of attractions (including a zip line) were set up.

Not all of the city's events were officially sanctioned. Before the game, impromptu tailgate parties popped up in the parking lot next to Commonwealth Stadium. (Officially, it's illegal to crack a beer in a parking lot, but police turned a blind eye to the few who did. As is tradition for Rider fans, Pilsner was the beer of choice.)

Fans wearing jerseys of the league's eight teams laughed and gently chided each other. A truck tire served as a makeshift washroom.

"It doesn't matter what colours you're wearing - it's like, full on, you're friends from 20 years ago. It's amazing," says Cary Faryna, 50, wearing a Calgary Stampeders jersey and a Roughriders scarf.

"That's what it's all about," adds Dale Markling, 51, decked out in a Roughriders jersey, flag and tuque. "People just getting together and bonding over a common experience - the love of the game."

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