In the midst of Saturday night’s debacle of a hockey game against the Calgary Flames, another fan threw his or hers jersey on the ice to make a statement about how tired they were of the years of losing, and losing in a big way, such as the 8-1 drubbing the lowly Flames handed the fledgling Edmonton Oilers.
Later, on the 630CHED call in program after the game, a caller commented on how he decided to wear his jersey inside out. He was in the view of TV cameras, and once he was spotted, Rogers Entertainment (as he called them) had him escorted out of Rexall Place. Elsewhere, fans are lamenting the last two games watching their team that, while improved, have been eviscerated 11-2 over that span. For most enthusiasts, losses like these can erase any delicate goodwill a winning streak can foster.
As a die hard Saskatchewan Roughriders fan, I have learned the hard way of how enduring dark times with your favorite team can pay incredible dividends. See, here in Edmonton, the Oilers came out of the gate as an expansion team in the 80′s, and in less than five years were championship calibre. They went on to win 5 Cups in eleven years, effectively spoiling the population in the provincial capital, setting an absurdly high bar for decades to come. Fans want the chance to contend annually, be it as the top team in the league or as the underdog, such as in 2006.
In Regina, the Roughriders have endured peaks and valleys for 103 years as a franchise, but have only won the Grey Cup four times. The other 99 years? Sure, plenty of playoff appearances, but not enough to offset the pain of being on the outside looking in most of the time. In recent decades, the team went multiple seasons out of the playoffs, really only gaining respect around the league as the 1990′s progressed. They began to make the playoffs more often, and eventually became a fixture in the postseason. Keep in mind, though, that prior to their 1989 Grey Cup win, that it had been thirteen years out of the playoffs, and 23 since their last championship. It would be another 18 years before another win at the big dance.
Just like the Edmonton Oilers, the Riders also needed to look to the support of its fans to survive. At one point, the Green and White sold shares in the team in an effort to keep the organization from folding. A fixture for decades, the locals couldn’t bear the thought of dismantling Rider Nation and came to the rescue of the CFL franchise. In Edmonton, a group of wealthy Albertans rallied together to keep the Oilers from relocating as the mismanagement under Peter Pocklington threatened to jettison the young team to a new city.
In both cases, fans and those with fat wallets realized the cultural and economic value of their team, and wanted to see to it they remained intact. Now, in fairness to Oilers fans, Rider fans can be negative nellies too when it comes to their team. QB Darian Durant felt the pressure of Rider Nation leading up to the recent championship. But, in my many years as a fan, I have never seen anyone take the jersey of that team and make a public display of it. Now, it happens regularly around these parts.
Last November, I was lucky enough to be in the stands in Regina to watch my beloved team win a big game at home, in front of their loyal fans. It was an historic night, as the Grey Cup would never be held there again, with a new stadium planned. It was the dream of every fan to watch their team win a unique game with special trappings that would never duplicate themselves.
Alas, the crowd of 45,000 delirious Rider fans had their dream come true, as the team walloped the Tiger Cats on home turf. After the win, I looked up on the Jumbotron. On it was an elderly woman with her hands over her face. As she took them away, she revealed a tear laden face, a longtime fan overcome with joy at the sight of her home team winning it all in little ‘ol Saskatchewan. The elation was palpable as the streets lined with peaceful, happy fans.
The lesson we can draw here as fans of the Edmonton Oilers is to be patient, even when that patience seems to be fruitless. I will never forget the euphoria of last year’s cup win in Regina. It was a singular event in Canadian sports and I was there as the stands vibrated with excitement. I still think of it and get tingles. That is why I will, even after horrible efforts like the one against Calgary, always stand by my team.
When we elevate Lord Stanley’s Cup once again—and we will, mark my words—it will be ever sweeter after the wait and the difficulty. To those who have decided to throw their jerseys in the air and give up, I feel pity. You will not experience the true fulfillment that being a TRULY dedicated fan can lead to.