A Rivalry Like No Other: Roughriders ready for another memorable Labour Day Classic with the Blue Bombers

When the calendar flips over to September, it signifies the beginning of football season.

High school and college teams are back in session and working towards their respective championships.

The National Football League (NFL) gets the regular season started with 32 teams dreaming of their seasons ending in February, with the entire world watching their fantasies become a reality.

The Canadian Football League (CFL) regular season is now at its midpoint. Many believe that the “real” season begins on the first weekend of September, as teams intensify their efforts to secure a playoff spot during the second half of the season.

The first Monday in September is when the provincial rivalries in the CFL are highlighted, with the Battle of Alberta between the Calgary Stampeders and the Edmonton Elks and the Battle of Ontario pitting the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Ti-Cats .

On the first Sunday of September, the battle of prairies takes centre stage in Canada as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers travel to Regina to meet the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

This week will mark the 58th Labour Day Classic between the green and white versus the blue and gold.

One man who has witnessed the rivalry from different perspectives is former Roughriders President and player Jim Hopson.

During an interview on the SportsCage with Michael Ball, Hopson revealed that he was informed by the team’s general managers when he was the team’s President, that the “real” season starts on Labor Day weekend.

“When I listen to our football guys, you know Roy Shivers, Eric (Tillman) and so on, they would say, the first part, the first half of the year, you got to make yourself in a position where you can make the playoffs.”

Riders Head Coach Craig Dickenson doesn’t want to discount the value of the games during the first half of the regular season but added with six of the nine teams in the league making the postseason, the games in the second half hold a lot of stake in the playoff race.

“It feels like after Labour Day, you can start to see where you’re going to finish a lot easier.”

Even though Sunday will mark Quarterback Jake Dolegala’s first appearance in the Labour Day Classic, he knows the storied history between the two teams.

“This one is obviously special.” He added, “just the pure excitement and joy from the fans, it’s just so electric in the stadium, I’m really pumped. “

One player who has experienced all the Labour Day rivalries in the CFL is defensive tackle Micah Johnson. The 35-year-old experienced the Battle of Alberta as a member of the Calgary Stampeders, and last season, he was a member of the Hamilton Ti-Cats as he took part in the Battle of Ontario.

Sunday will mark the third time Johnson has taken part in the Roughriders-Blue Bombers version of the Labour Day Classic and admits the prairie rivalry stands out from the others.

“It’s kind of one of those games you have to address, you can’t even act like it’s just a regular game, just another game, cause it’s not man, there’s a different kind of energy.”

Brett Lauther became a Labour Day Classic hero in 2019 when he kicked a walk-off field goal, giving Saskatchewan a 19-17 win over Winnipeg. The Roughriders kicker celebrated the memorable moment with a “Lauther Leap” into Pil. Country moments after he made the crucial 26-yard field goal.

Before the game-winning kick, Lauther experienced the pageantry of Labour Day on the sidelines in 2015 when he was a member of the team’s practice roster.

“No one knew who I was, I mean, I was even on the P.R. (practice roster) with Naaman Roosevelt, we still joke about that, he wasn’t even starting at the time, you see what he did and the career he had after that. “

Roosevelt eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark on two occasions during his five seasons with the Roughriders. The Saskatchewan offensive assistant also fond memories witnessing the Labour Day Classic for the first time.

“It was crazy, you know you hear about when you get up to Saskatchewan, you don’t really know until you experience it and I think it was a great experience, it was fun for me, I got a couple of catches so it was exciting.”

Linebacker Derrick Moncrief has fond memories of his first Labour Day Classic in 2019.

“I had a crazy sack, an interception, first half, and we got the win, so it was memorable.”

For Moncrief, the biggest thing about the Labour Day Classic is the going head-to-head with the Blue Bombers. He says the team is confident in about their chances on Sunday.

“We’re ready, we put in the work this week, we just got to continue to prepare and let the chips fall in all four quarters.”

Hopson feels confident in the Roughriders playoff chances, with the team sitting at .500 with a 5-5 record. He understands the magnitude of Sunday’s clash with the Blue Bombers.

“This game is so important because we really need to split with Winnipeg to stay in the hunt, we’re better at Mosaic, if we can do that, we’ll be in good shape. “

Practice Notebook

Friday’s practice was moved indoors to AffinityPlex due to the air quality outside.
DB C.J. Reavis (hamstring), DB Nelson Lokombo (knee) Justin Herdman-Reed (Quad) have been ruled out for Sunday’s game while DB Amari Henderson (ankle) has been listed as questionable.

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