Anyone not from the Canadian prairies might not know about the tense rivalry between Alberta and Saskatchewan, but the unusual thing isn't the rivalry but the geography of it.
Saskatchewan (the province) has just over a million people in it. (That's one in about 34 Canadians.....) Edmonton alone has 800, 000-ish. Calgary has well-over a million. But when the Riders play in one of these cities in Alberta, the stands never look too lopsided.
I lived in Edmonton (Home of the Edmonton Eskimos) for a while, working in the world's largest shopping mall/entertainment centre (so many stories for another time....). On game weekend, the mall was always full of jerseys. Jerseys for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. And it wasn't just people who'd driven the three, five, eight hours to watch the game in Edmonton (and there were many). It was people who lived in Edmonton, maybe for years, but bravely wore the homeland green anyway - even when the Riders were playing in Hamilton or Montreal. It's what we do. Those of us from Saskatchewan may roam and travel, full of wanderlust, but more often than not, our hearts never really leave. I've always joked that there are four million people from Saskatchewan - only one million live locally. :-)
There's an interesting sense of loyalty and making the best of things as they sit. I remember, in that same mall, running to grab a snack on a break, and passing a bunch of green ladies with big S's on their cheeks sitting at the caricature artist's stand. They were giggling away and having a great time, joking about where they'd get their husbands to take them for dinner. I stopped to ask them the score and expected good news from their joviality.
"Oh, we got murdered," one of them said, with a smile and a wave.
Her friend piped up, "But it never stops us from cheering." And I walked away and off to my snack with a grin on my face, not sad that our team lost, but glad to be a part of our little fan-dom.
More remarkable than the sea of green on game day and the attitudes of those who watch and cheer, is the sea of green the day AFTER the game day we didn't win. We still send up the flag.
In his backyard, my father has a flagpole and you had better believe that today, the big green one is flying just under the maple leaf.
Because it's game day.