he hotel we stayed in this year was a lot nicer than we are accustomed to, but in the end, the result, was unfortunately the same.
Looking back though, since my first trip to the Labour Day Classic in 2001, much has changed about the weekend experience for the Blue Bombers and the fans of this rivalry grudge match against the Roughriders, and it's not just the standard of hotel we stay in.
Back when it all began for me, we used to climb on the bus on Fridays after practice with our pillows and VHS movies in tow, one year even in our matching Reebok sweat suits looking like the Mississippi Mud Dogs out of the movie The Waterboy. The players would always scramble to save seats and get on the bus that the coaches weren't on, but back then Dave Ritchie split up his field generals so we would always be under some kind of supervision, for on the return trip home it wasn't uncommon for fights to erupt or players to get sick from drinking too much. You always had to be careful what movies you could play, as our head coach back then often rode the bus with his wife and you never, ever, wanted to have them turn around in their seats and give a disapproving look about the on-screen content.
Nutritional values have certainly changed since we first started travelling to Labour Day, too. On the bus ride out there we used to stop at the McDonald's in Brandon for lunch and would sign autographs in the parking lot while putting away meal combos No. 1, 2, and 3. A lot of Bomber fans used to give us a grand old send-off from the stadium and follow our buses in their buses, which would create an atmosphere not unlike a mini pep rally at that Brandon McDonald's. We would arrive at our hotel pretty late those Friday nights and have our last evening of somewhat restful slumber.
The next day, Saturday, would always be reminiscent of the circus coming to town. We would travel over to Taylor Field and do our walk-thru at the stadium in front of hundreds of already unruly Rider fans, as tents and fan exhibits were being erected. Afternoon meetings would follow and by the time dinner rolled around on Saturday night Regina had transformed into Saskatchewan's version of Mardi Gras.
We would travel to our meals in groups, under explicit instructions, as there were so many Blue and Gold and Green fans on the streets at various levels of inebriation, you could never be sure if they were going to ask you for an autograph or question your sexual orientation. All the hotels that had rooms overlooking the street were adorned with flags and banners and the balconies always seemed to be manned by watchmen with airhorns and plastic trumpets, looking for any reason whatsoever to sound the alarm.
By the time we would call it a night, just about a decade ago, the party would just be getting into full gear. If you happened to leave your room to get some ice, you would have to navigate over and around all the furniture that the partygoers had put into the hallways to spruce the place up a bit. It was not uncommon either to have your room phone ringing on and off throughout the entire night. I often wonder these days if it was our foul and irritable moods created by those evenings with our heads barricaded under the pillows trying to drown out the noise that led us to those rare wins we used to experience in Regina on Sunday afternoons. Either way, the noise, the distractions and the carnival-like atmosphere used to get so bad we actually moved our Labour Day headquarters to the mineral spa in Moose Jaw for a stretch of about four years.
The entire experience is now different for both the players, and I would imagine, the fans as well. We now, most commonly, fly out to the games. No one is there to send us off or follow our bus, just like in the movie Slapshot. We no longer have to stay in Moose Jaw because the hotels we frequent now either have outstanding security protocols or minimal fans staying in them. We no longer lunch at McDonald's in Brandon, but usually the Star Deli downtown, and we no longer encounter droves of fans on the streets harassing us or see drunken revellers dangling off of their balconies. The cheerleaders no longer make the trip out and usually nobody swears at you until kickoff on game day.
Though conditions and accommodations have changed to favour the visiting players, the wins are seemingly even more elusive and it makes one wonder whether the fan experience has depreciated or been enhanced by the reduction of chaotic episodes over time at Labour Day.