With a bit of booze, too

Rowdy Bomber fans have discovered the bus ride to Regina is often as much fun as taking in the game...

Rowdy Bomber fans have discovered the bus ride to Regina is often as much fun as taking in the game itself. (JESSE JOHNSTON, Sun)

PAUL FRIESEN

, Last Updated: 1:44 AM ET

Greg Partridge has this Labour Day thing down pat.

Wearing a toga over his shoulders and a laurel wreath on his head, Partridge climbed onto a bus pointed towards Regina yesterday, along with about 55 of his closest friends, confident he'd packed for the occasion.

Game ticket: check. Cooler full of beer: check. Jello shooters: check.

Jello shooters?

"We usually have about 600 or 700 on the bus," Partridge explained. "It's kind of become a tradition."

And so the rowdiest football weekend of the year, next to the Grey Cup, got rolling early yesterday morning.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have gone 15 years without winning a CFL championship, the Saskatchewan Roughriders a league-worst 18 years, but you wouldn't know it from the hype generated by the annual Labour Day Classic.

Sold out for weeks, Regina's Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field will be overflowing tonight -- and, yes, we use that term literally -- thanks, in part, to several hundred lunatics wearing Bomber colours who make the annual trek down the Trans-Canada.

"This is shaping up to be the best trip I've ever been on," said organizer Pat Rathwell, who gets together two busloads under the moniker, True Blue Booster Crew. "I could have easily done three or four. The team's doing a lot better. We're not going in there thinking, 'I hope we don't get killed.'"

Rathwell said his buses contain "the serious football fans," but, looking at his face, painted gold with a W on his forehead and a B on each cheek, it was hard to take him too seriously.

Then you talk to some of his passengers.

Like Cameron Caldwell, who's made this trip 22 times, but won't drive the 600 clicks himself, anymore.

"It's easier to eat kolbassa when you're on the bus," Caldwell began.

Huh?

"You can have kolbassa in one hand and a beverage in the other."

Of course.

"This is Canadiana at its best," Caldwell continued. "It's a mini-Grey Cup. If you can live through one of these weekends, you can make it through a Grey Cup. It's a litmus test."

Not to mention a liver test.

Climbing onto another bus were a couple of guys with funnels attached to long tubes. I'm guessing they weren't for oil changes.

"It'll hold 15 beers," Kevin Lottis, a 24-year-old machinist, explained. "One-inch tubing, reinforced for pressure. A brass ball valve. This is the industrial-strength nozzle."

According to Brian Lafreniere, another funnel guy, it takes just three seconds for an entire beer to clear his device.

"I'd test it out for you, but it's a little early," Lafreniere said. "Wait until Brandon."

Wait a minute -- what about the football game?

"I think there's a game on the weekend," Kendra-Dee De Luca offered. "I think we've made it there a couple of times."

De Luca and a few friends were calling this weekend a girls' getaway. So what are they doing piling into a bus carrying mostly male football fanatics, many of whom plan on consuming copious amounts of liquor by the time they hit Elie?

"No drinking," De Luca insisted, her tongue nearly poking through her cheek. "Everyone sleeps. Watch a few movies. Play some bingo. A little Neil Diamond."

Sure. A real travelling salvation show. With football the religion, and more than a little communion along the way.

And what do the guys driving the buses think of all this?

"Everybody's rocking," driver Mike Moore said. "The music is blaring from Winnipeg to Regina. You get there in a split second."

About as much time as it takes to down 700 Jello shooters.

"The best part, honestly, is probably the bus ride out there," Partridge, the Jello guy, said. "Jello shooters aside, it's a perfect two-six, here to Regina."

Paul Friesen is the Sun's sports columnist. He can be reached at 632-2788.


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