WINNIPEG - It’s almost the Labour Day weekend, and that can only mean one thing: some serious chirping going on between Manitobans and Saskatchewanites.
The chirping can reach ridiculous proportions if you happen to be a stubble-jumper who plays for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Take Brendon LaBatte, a 300-pound product of Weyburn, Sask., who’ll get paid to push some Riders around on Sunday.
The first three years of his CFL career, LaBatte would hear it, big-time, from buddies back home in the days leading up to the Labour Day Classic.
“It’s been a little quieter than years past,” the O-lineman was saying, Wednesday.
Then there’s rookie Bomber Jade Etienne, a Regina-born receiver who’ll get his first on-field taste of the rivalry he used to soak up as a melon-head in the stands at Taylor Field.
“Not a whole lot, actually,” Etienne said of the pre-game chatter from his acquaintances in Rider Nation. “But our record is helping us out, too.”
Of course. There’d have to be a little less bravado coming from the land of a 1-7 team, particularly when the hated Bombers are perched on the CFL’s top rung, at 7-1.
But just because a few people have hit the mute button in the days leading up to the weekend doesn’t mean things are going to be any tamer in the stands, Sunday.
If anything, Rider Priders, with theirs hurting a tad, will want to take out their first-half frustrations on somebody.
Who better than the hated Blue and Gold?
“I think I went to every single home game when I was in high school. And Labour Day was the bash of the year,” Etienne recalled. “Every time it was a big party. Everybody got loud and rowdy and hated on Winnipeg.”
And this guy is still hoping his family and friends will be cheering for him?
“Quietly,” Etienne said. “Out loud they won’t.”
Not a chance.
I’d venture a guess Etienne’s grandmother might not even be pulling for the kid. That would be sacrilegious.
LaBatte knows his birthplace won’t get him a break from the loonies in the crowd. It never does.
“I hear it nonstop,” he said. “Last year I was stretching out a tight calf early in the fourth quarter, and somebody was yellin’, ‘It’s a little late to start warming up now.’ You definitely hear some stuff that makes you chuckle.”
And plenty you wouldn’t repeat to your mother.
LaBatte hasn’t had much to fire back with, either. He’s 0-3 in Labour Day Classics, and just 1-5 against the Riders, overall.
And he doesn’t expect the difference in the current standings to mean much, come kickoff time.
“With their changes they’re definitely feeling optimistic about the direction their club is going,” he said. “It’s pretty much a season-opener for them, in a sense, coming off the bye week and hoping their second half turns around. They’re definitely going to have a lot of energy, so we’ve got to be ready for that.”
But LaBatte senses something different about the Bombers, this time: he’s never been on a team this tight by the Labour Day weekend. Never seen a team that can motivate itself, like this one.
“So when you’re playing in an environment like that, where the crowd can be so loud and aggressive, you really have to be able to self-motivate and stick together as a team,” he said. “Hopefully that’ll translate into good things for us.”
If it does, perhaps La-Batte can have the last word, for a change, as the Bombers dodge the beer cups and insults to hop on the bus for the ride home.