Can't beat Classic

Doug Berry will be taking in his first Labour Day Classic on Sunday as head coach of the Winnipeg...

Doug Berry will be taking in his first Labour Day Classic on Sunday as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. (Winnipeg Sun File/John Woods)

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

Sing along if you like.

It's the most wonderful time of the year -- for football fans in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, that is.

The 40th annual Labour Day Classic goes this Sunday in Regina. As always, it features the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers against the host Saskatchewan Roughriders.

It's the biggest tilt of the year on the Prairies. The game sold out weeks ago, and thousands of Bombers fans will make the annual pilgrimage down the Trans-Canada Highway, including several hundred on bus tours.

GETTING INTO SPIRIT

Bombers safety Kyries Hebert will be playing in his first Classic this year, but he's already getting into the spirit.

"I don't know many people from Saskatchewan, but what I hear from one of my teammates was that they're a bunch of banjo-playing inbreds. That's what I heard," Hebert said with a smile. "But I don't think we're going to be playing any of those banjo-playing inbreds. We'll be playing the players of the team.

"And I'm excited about this, because I haven't been in a game of this importance in this league since I've been here. At this point of the season, this is a very big game, and I'm excited about it, so I plan on kicking ass all ... day ... long."

Hebert is dead on when talking about the importance of this weekend's game. It's not very often that the Bombers and 'Riders sport respectable records at the same time, but this year they're both 5-5.

The Bombers are tied for second in the East Division with the Toronto Argonauts. The Roughies, meanwhile, are alone in third place in the West, just four points back of the division-leading B.C. Lions.

Both teams could be 0-10, however, and the fans would still flock to Mosaic Stadium, just as they did in 2004, for example, when defensive end Tom Canada got his first taste of the Classic as a Bombers rookie.

"You don't really understand until you see it," Canada said. "Because when I first came here, I heard, 'Oh yeah, Saskatchewan' and you don't really know what to expect. But then when you get there it's a packed stadium and there's a bunch of drunk fans screaming at you. It's just fun. It's a fun place to play. I like playing over there.

"Even though it's Saskatchewan, it's still a fun place to play."

Ba-dum-dum.

Canada vividly recalls the aftermath of the 2004 game, which the Bombers won 36-18.

"The fans stormed the field and it was like, 'I'm so wasted! Can I have your helmet?' " Canada said. "I was like, 'No, you can't have my helmet. I need this thing.' "

Another Classic rookie is Bombers head coach Doug Berry, who last experienced a big rivalry game when he was an assistant coach at the University of Massachusetts.

"There used to be a huge one between Connecticut and Massachusetts, but then they changed conferences and that rivalry broke up," Berry said.

And while he has yet to taste this deep-rooted Canadian rivalry, he, too, knows what it means to the locals. In fact, he's already told his players the following story:

"I remember going down to the Auburn-Alabama game -- this was a long time ago -- and seeing a book being sold on the tables there outside the stadium," Berry said. "And the name of the book was Bragging Rights, and that's what games like this are all about.

"This is Manitoba-Saskatchewan bragging rights."

For the record, Saskatchewan still has the overall bragging rights, as the Roughriders lead the all-time Classic series 21-18.


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