So, if you follow my blog, you will have noticed I haven’t written for a long time and I make no apologies, by the way. One of the benefits of being self-employed is I have no boss, unless you count Darlene but for 24 years now, summer is very slow and after an adjustment to no paycheck for a couple of months, the bonus was lots of time so rather than seeing that as a negative, two months vacation is pretty cool so I have been very busy doing as little as possible. I also need to remove myself from pace of speaking and travelling which really does wear on one’s postive belief system and it’s just as well since summer is also he travel season for normal families who usually suck at it!
Since the 1950’s, the Law family has been very fortunate to call Crystal Lake, Saskatchewan our summer home and I can’t imagine a place with more meaning to yours truly, and now Darlene too (the dogs and cat seem to enjoy it a tad as well). I am certain people that are blessed with a summer cottage all believe theirs is the most beauiful so I will leave that alone but for me, it is also a chance to revisit my home province of Saskatchewan. For those of you unfamiliar with Canada, Saskatchewan is a prairie “province” with more geography than California and just over a million people. It is farming country and it is definitely rural. It has to patiently put up with bad jokes about being flat (which is only true for parts of the place) and for most of my life, also had to deal with socialist politics that often made the Kremlin seem progressive, but I digress. With all of it’s stereotypes, the one thing Saskatchewan has is pride and there is arguably nothing that brings out the most personal of feelings than the province’s only professional sporting franchise, the Saskatchewan Roughriders! Go to Riderville.com for more info but let me explain one thing; the Riders are owned by Saskatchewan. Not the government, the people. It has a volunteer board of directors and all profits from the team operations go right back to the team. It used to be that the team tended to be on the lower end of the spectrum financially. Small population, small stadium, limited corporate support, etc. Even worse, the team plays its home games in Regina which to bigger urban Canadian cities is a joke as well. One example would be if you got transferred from Toronto to Regina, you must have done something wrong. But to make reference to the game of football, the CFL (Canadian Football League) is pretty much only known to Canadians. Due to various reasons but mostly numbers, the CFL has historically been a league with more Americans than Canadians on the eight teams. The United States just has more players, especially coming out of College. The notion is that only the best of the best play in the NFL (National Football League) and those that fail, either quit or play in various poser leagues, one of them is the CFL.
Now here is another unwinnable argument because personal preference comes in play but I refuse to compare the NFL and CFL. They both play “football” which oddly is what most of thr world calls soccer, but that’s where the similarities end. NFL has 11 players, four downs, a hundred yard field and ten yard end zones. The CFL has 12 players, three downs, 110 yard field and 20 yard end zones. It is also a much smaller league as CANADA IS SMALLER!! But it is not inferior, not even a little bit.
I have been a Rider fan since 1960. Apparently, my father had a wee adjustment to a brand new baby showing up when he was 53 and though my 55 year-old foster-mom was the primary caregiver, Dad had to help a bit so when a game was on, he would park me in my little baby unit and together we’d watch CFL. Didn’t matter who was playing but it did matter when the Riders played. But here’s what makes this team somewhat unique; they call it “Canada’s Team”. Aside from sounding nice, there is a powerful reason for the term.
Saskatchewan has exported more talent than any other province. Why? Simple really. The socialist politics meant the term entreprenuer was mostly unheard of so if you didn’t farm and you didn’t work for the government, you left to finder better opportunities. There are Saskatchewan expatriates in every corner of this country, particularly Alberta. So no matter where they play, there is always Rider Fans in the crowd and they always where the colors which is Green & White. They actually have a term and it is called “Rider Pride”.
On August 24th, I had a dream come true. I was invited to speak to the 2012 edition of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I went into Regina from our cottage three hours away and spent a mere 35 minutes in the locker room with fifity players and coaches following their morning practice. For someone used to fancy convention centres of school gyms, this was a pretty special venue. I can say it smelled different but it was like perfume for the senses. It was all guys and it was a closed meeting so no press or guests and it was an experience that I had to write about today but not to just boast.
Having never played football (I did play a some soccer) and more importantly, other than one season as a pinch-runner for the neighborhood little-league team when I was 9, I had never been on a “team”. I also have no point of reference regarding professional athletes. Like most people, I am a fan, although as a Rider Fan, I admit to being a bit over the edge! So, I did what I always do and that’s speak to the “person” inside the professional. True, I am a professional speaker but I can say for certain that this may have been the most personal gig I have ever done.
The team engeged with me, were polite, had a few laughs, even a couple of tears and in many respects was simply another audience. But when I was done, got a standing ovation and then was presented with a team jersey and helmet by head coach, Corey Chamblin, I had a feeling I have never, ever had. As I took in the moment, Coach Chamblin wasn’t exactly sure how to give me my goodies so he placed the helmet on my stool and I grabbed the jersey under my chin. Just as a bit of background, I met Coach Chamblin in the Calgary airport three years ago. He just happened to be going through security at the same time as me and seeing I had no arms, offered to help, as most people tend to do. He was an assistant coach with the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders at the time and was wearing a red golf shirt with the team’s horsy logo. I was wearing a green Rider golfshirt so when he asked if I needed help, I politely declined but felt compelled to make a backhanded comment about helping him pick a different color for his attire. He was bit surprised at my comment but laughed it off calling me “One of those fans!” and we parted company. Later that morning we met again when he asked me for a business card after finding out I was a speaker. He thought it would be a great message to bring to the Stampeders and wr almost worked out that gig out but it never happened. He then became an assistant coach with the Hamilton Tiger Cats and then in 2012, was brought in to be the Riders new head coach, thus my invitation to speak for the team. The minor theme we carried over was my being very independent and not needing “help” so after I grabbed the jersey, Coach said, “i am not helping you put it on!” So I dropped to the floor, flung the jersey over my head (took me two tries), shook it down and stood up to a thundering ovation. I am a normally emotional guy anyways but what a feeling. I then spent the next hour posing for pictures with the individual players who chose to come up as opposed to being told to and as I was getting hugs and fist bumps, it occured to me…these were fine human beings. These may be football players and to their fans, are Saskatchewan Roughriders but today, I see them differently.
Professional athletes pull their share of stupid moves and don’t always come across as being down to earth but I can tell you that my experience with the Pride of Canada has given me a gift more valuable than any jersey or helmet. The gift of acceptance has been an elusive emotion for a significant part of my life. I simply want to thank General Manager, Brenden Taymen, Assistant GM, Jeremy O’Day (my assistant and guide for the day), President Jim Hopson and head coach, Corey Chamblin for what can only be describes a highlight of my life event.
But the real thanks is to the players and coaches that embraced me as one of their own. I thought I had Rider Pride but it has reached a whole new level. Go Riders!