This post was written by Dave Spadafora
The Labour Day Weekend just won’t be the same this year. Since 1949, it has been the cornerstone of the Canadian Football schedule. “It’s when the real Season starts” is what I have often heard from fans, and media types alike.
Since there will be no Football this weekend, I decided to take a look back at some memorable past Labour Day games between Winnipeg and Saskatchewan. Before we get started though, a little background.
The Riders have a very impressive 37-18 record against the Bombers on Labour Day. The game was not played on an annual basis until 1982. Since that time, the Riders are a staggering 28-10! I say staggering because of how bad some of those Rider teams were (particularly in the 80s and 90s), and how good some of the Bomber teams of the same era were. Fans of both teams who are old enough to remember know that it didn’t matter how bad the Riders were, for the most part, they always seemed to find a way to beat the Bombers on Labour Day! So here we go…
Rocky! Rocky! Rocky! September 1, 2002
Injuries to both Nealon Greene, Kevin Glenn, and ineffective play by 3rd Stringer Jonathon Beasley forced Rider’s Head Coach, Danny Barret to give the nod to the fourth-string quarterback, Rocky Butler to start. The pundits weren’t giving the Riders much of a chance of winning with the first-year-pro from Hofstra University behind centre. Barret condensed the Playbook to aid his young pivot, and got a very good performance from the supporting cast, in particular the defence who held the Bomber’s offence at bay for most of the afternoon. Butler completed only nine of his 16 pass attempts for 165 yards but did most of his damage on the ground rushing for three touchdowns. He quickly became a fan favourite. In a scene reminiscent of the Sylvester Stallone movie franchise, a chant of Rocky started in the stands of Old Mosaic late in the game when a Rider victory was apparent. Unfortunately, Butler never did catch on as a starter in Regina, or later on in Hamilton, but his performance on that day forever etched his name in Saskatchewan Roughrider lore.
Final Score: Riders 33 Winnipeg 19
Clark was Clutch, September 4, 1983
A Hollywood scriptwriter couldn’t have come up with a better story than what happened in the 1983 classic. Place-kicker Dave Ridgway was injured earlier in the game, and with 43 seconds left in the game and the Riders needing a 41-yard field goal, punter Ken Clark came out to attempt it. The kick was good and provided the Riders with what turned out to be the winning points. What gave the moment an extra sense of poignancy was the fact that Clark had returned to Regina the Friday before the game after visiting his mother who was on her deathbed. He dedicated the kick to her in his post-game interview. Sadly, she would die a short time later. Unbeknownst to everyone at the time, Clark’s days as a Rider were numbered. He had gotten into General Manager’s John Herrera’s Doghouse and was traded to the Ottawa Rough Riders a few weeks after the game. Just another example of the chronic bad management that plagued the Rider teams of that era.
Final Score: Riders 32 Winnipeg 30.
Farewell Old Friend, September 4, 2016
I’ve been writing this from a Rider perspective, but I would be remiss in not mentioning that the Bombers have had their share of big wins on the Labour Day Weekend also. Arguably the biggest came in the last Labour Day Classic played at Old Mosaic Stadium. The Bombers held the lead for most of the game, being up as much as 16 points late in the third quarter. With 55 seconds left to play, it looked like the ghosts of Labour Day would again come back and haunt Winnipeg, when Kendial Lawrence electrified the sold-out crowd with an 85-yard punt return touchdown tying the Score. Matt Nichols and the Bomber Offence had other ideas though. They managed to get into field goal position for Justin Medlock who would split the uprights from 45 yards away spoiling the farewell party, and breaking an 11 Game Bomber losing streak on Labour Day.
Final Score: Winnipeg 28 Riders 25.
Paopao To Elgaard, August 31, 1986
The Riders came into this game with a chip on their shoulder. They had played the Bombers in Winnipeg earlier in the year and suffered the worst defeat in the then 76-year history of the club losing 56-0. No, that’s not a typo. As is most often the case, they would need some late-game heroics. Bomber Receiver James Murphy hauled in a touchdown pass with less than a minute to play giving Winnipeg the lead. There were two Bomber Fans sitting in the row in front of us who’s celebration of Murphy’s touchdown got a little too lusty for my Mother, causing her to tell them in no uncertain terms they should go back to Winnipeg, a move that was appreciated by the other Rider fans sitting near us. For their part, the Rider offence wanted to make sure to make their trip a long, disappointing one. They would do just that when with 22 seconds left quarterback Joe Paopao found Ray Elgaard, who managed to get in behind the coverage, and raced into the Endzone untouched for a 56-yard game-winning touchdown!
Final Score: Riders 34 Winnipeg 30.
Joseph Up The Middle, September 2, 2007
2007 was a pivotal year in the history of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The success the team enjoys today, both on and off the field can be traced back to then. The biggest win of that year happened on Labour Day. The game was the usual back and forth affair that typically characterizes the annual meeting. Once again it would come down to the final seconds. With the Bombers clinging to a 2 point lead, the Riders had the ball well within Luca Congi’s Range. On first down from the 27-yard line, everyone in the ballpark thought the Rider would call a simple draw play to take more time off the clock and position the ball better for the Congi attempt. Quarterback Kerry Joseph called his own number, the Bombers blitzed all their linebackers, Joseph somehow managed to duck underneath them, and once he cleared the line of scrimmage, he had nothing but the Green Mosaic Stadium turf between him and the endzone. He would run untouched for the game-winning touchdown, setting off absolute bedlam both in the stands and on the field!
Final Score: Riders 31 Winnipeg 26.
So there you have it. So many memories. We can only hope that when football returns more can be made. In the meantime, I wonder if there’s anything new on Netflix?