Riders fans look for revenge

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 6:38 PM ET

WINNIPEG — Saskatchewan football fans do not take insults lying down.

So you can expect them to be planning some sort of revenge on Winnipeg head coach Mike Kelly when he brings the Blue Bombers to Regina to play the Roughriders in their annual Labour Day Classic, apologies be damned.

Kelly incited the ire of Manitoba’s western neighbours when he jokingly responded to a fan’s suggestion during the club’s Fan Forum last winter.

“We kind of raided the toothless, green, watermelon-helmet-wearing people from the crotch of Canada,” Kelly was quoted as saying, his tongue clearly planted in his cheek.

But that won’t matter and Kelly knows it.

“I tried to explain that that did not originate with me,” Kelly said yesterday. “But it’s going to be what it is and I’ve just got to deal with it. It’s going to be fun for everybody.

“I was asked what I expect from some of their east-side fans and I said, ‘creativity.’ I’d like for them to be more creative than, ‘Hey, you’re bald and you should be fired.’ You know, come up with something. Give me something to laugh about on the sidelines and that’s all part of the fun.”

The Bombers did issue an official apology shortly after Kelly’s faux pas.

“If there is any one thing this year, I regret the fact that the ‘Crotch of Canada’ thing has been so tagged to me and that’s the perception that I would feel about the whole Province of Saskatchewan because that’s obviously not the case,” Kelly said.

“They’re good, Midwestern people ... They’re going to have fun with it and we’ll just play along.”

Saskatchewan natives are not that forgiving when it comes to the Bombers.

“That didn’t go over too well and they weren’t too impressed,” said Winnipeg offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte, a Weyburn, Sask., native. “I happened to be living in Regina at the time (of Kelly’s remark) and I got asked quite a bit about it.

“It’s all in good fun. It’s definitely a heated rivalry and things get said and they kind of exchange shots back and forth, so I’m sure they’ll have something ready for us when we get there.”

LaBatte will play in his second Classic as a member of Saskatchewan’s most hated rival.

“The atmosphere is absolutely crazy,” said LaBatte, who has been scrambling to find tickets for friends and family. “I remember last year, when they were lighting off fireworks right before the game, I had never had goosebumps quite like that before the start of it all, and the energy just doesn’t stop the whole game. Even though they’re cheering against us, the energy in the building, we’re feeding off it.

“I still haven’t heard the end of what happened last year — the Labour Day Classic loss and then, when we let them off the hook here in the Banjo Bowl. I’m still hearing about that, so I would love nothing more than going in there and winning it and having the last laugh this year.”

Winnipeg offensive lineman Glenn January, another ex-Rider, expects a wild afternoon.

“As a Bomber, I’m expecting to have a crowd that’s loud, that’s into the game and that will be out there drinking at 6 a.m.,” he joked. “They’re going to have a run on watermelon sales, I know that.

“You say, as a professional athlete, you can’t really let outside influences get you up for a game but this is one of those games where you have a little extra pep in your step because you know the impact it has on your province, your team and your community.”


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