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Saskatchewan Roughriders' fans cheer their team during first half CFL Western final football action against the Calgary Stampeders in Regina, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
Saskatchewan Roughriders' fans cheer their team during first half CFL Western final football action against the Calgary Stampeders in Regina, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Allan Maki

Stamps prepare for sea of green Add to ...

They're boisterous, excitable and they come at you in waves - and those are just the Saskatchewan Roughriders' fans. The football team's pretty scary, too.

In fact, the Riders' appearance at McMahon Stadium Saturday night has put the Calgary Stampeders on the highest alert; Code Green meets Def Con 2. Not only will the 35,650-seat stadium be at least half full of green-clad Saskatchewan supporters, a significant number will have likely indulged in the special Rider Day at the Park at nearby Foothills Stadium.

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The Calgary Vipers of the Golden Baseball League are using an afternoon game against the Edmonton Capitals to salute the Rider Nation, which is fast becoming as legendary as the Oakland Raiders from-the-depths-of-hell horde. Saskatchewan fans will be treated to team tributes at Foothills plus a post-game concert with alcohol on sale.

And when the concert ends, people can walk across the parking lot to McMahon Stadium for the 7:30 p.m. MT kick-off. That, combined with the usual tailgating and partying, has stadium officials ready for high jinks good, bad and illegal.

"We have a different level of security for these games," McMahon Stadium manager John Haverstock said of Calgary-Saskatchewan match-ups. "We bring in extra security, extra people at the gates, extra police presence, extra people at field level … With 35,000 people, if 1 per cent is stupid that's 350 people we have to deal with.

"We're ready."

Even if everyone stays respectful, Rider fans have a way of making their presence felt. Their 'sea of green' and rousing cheers not only inspire Saskatchewan's players, they can unnerve the Stampeders. Veteran Calgary defensive back Wes Lysack recalled the first time he ran onto the home turf against Saskatchewan and wondered if he'd gone to the wrong stadium.

"In my rookie year I came out of the tunnel and I was pretty shocked," he said, of the large number of Saskatchewan fans who live in Calgary or travel to attend games here. "You hear about it, but you don't believe it until you see it."

Joffrey Reynolds, the Stampeders' all-star running back, had the same experience.

"The first time, it was a weird feeling. Now it's just the way it is. Stampeder fans, when we make plays, we hear them, too," said Reynolds. "That's what makes this game so much fun."

No one has had more fun with the heightening of the Calgary-Saskatchewan rivalry than quarterback Henry Burris, who bolted the flatlands for Cowtown's bright lights and big cash in 2005. Burris was vilified to the point where 'Rider fans made dolls in his image then did all sorts of nasty things to them.

Five years later, the Burris bashing has cooled as a new Calgary-Saskatchewan storyline has emerged.

"Edmonton-Calgary will always be tradition," said Burris. "But now Calgary and Saskatchewan is two good teams going at each other hard. Since 2000, Saskatchewan has been building a team from the ground up. They've had good management, good coaches and players. This is a rivalry built on success. It's a game I look forward to because there's so much emotion to it."

The Riders pull into Calgary as the only undefeated team in the CFL (3-0) boasting the league's highest scoring offence, its top passer (Darian Durant) and top running back (Wes Cates, a former Stampeder). The Stampeders (2-1) are coming off a stinging loss to the Toronto Argonauts and are looking to get their offence on track. The two West Division foes haven't met in a game that matters since last November's Western Final when Saskatchewan trumped Calgary by 10 points to earn a berth in the 2009 Grey Cup, at McMahon Stadium, no less. This game, even in late July, is one that matters.

"They won the Grey Cup in 2007. We won in 2008 and they knocked us out of the Western Final last year," said Reynolds. "The loser always takes it personally. We don't want to lose. We want to give our fans lots to cheer about."

They also want to make sure their fans get to the game.

"If I have tickets to unload I give them to Stampeder fans, not Saskatchewan fans," Lysack said with a grin. "I tell the young guys [on the team]to do the same."

 

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