One of the more memorable BC Lions moments at Mosaic Stadium/Taylor Field was not witnessed by any fans or media and did not occur on the playing surface itself. It was October 15th, 1994 after a gut wrenching 38-27 loss to the hometown Roughriders: the Lions’ remarkable, Cinderella Grey Cup-winning season was in danger of being over before the November magic began. As former Leos’ offensive lineman and current Director of Community Relations Jamie Taras tells it, a few of his teammates were about to start fighting with one another in the locker room…. again.
“There was a group we called ‘The Jamaicans’ and another group of American DB’s that always had verbal fights back and forth,” Taras recalls. “That day in Regina there was an incident with James Jefferson ending up in the stands and getting beat up by some the fans. Ian Sinclair had to jump up and save him.”
That was par for the course from the passionate fans in Riderville. They are always right on top of you and in most cases don’t stop yelling all game long. After the loss, a still fired up Jefferson was getting into it with his usual sparring partners and the CFL’s all-time leading scorer Lui Passaglia could hear it from the shower. The Lions’ elder statesmen had heard enough and decided to intervene and was so focused on the task at hand, he forgot to put his towel back on him.
“He comes out of the shower, turns to Jefferson and says ‘listen, if you want to fight someone fight me’,” Taras adds. What happened next would probably define the Lions’ 1994 campaign.
“Jefferson then looks over and says ‘I’ll fight you old man, but you’ve got to put some damn clothes on first!’ At that point, the whole locker room burst into laughter and the whole tension subsided. Then of course that team went on to win the Grey Cup, so out of the chaos some good things came from it,” Taras says.
We’re certain there will be no infighting when the Lions take part in the final ever contest at “Old” Mosaic this Saturday. The historic stadium, in rudimentary form, has been the Roughriders’ home since 1910 when they were still known as the Regina Rugby Club. It expanded to a full venue in 1936. Over the next eight decades, it would transform into a crown jewel for the football-mad Province of Saskatchewan. A sea of green, a palace for Pilsner, a watermelon-wearing costume party, you name it. On the field itself, the Lions had their fare share of memories at Taylor Field, which added the Mosaic title in 2006. For many, it will always be simply known as Taylor Field, especially for Lions’ legends such as Al Wilson, who remembers a particularly frigid day where he had to help out young teammate Ian Sinclair.
“It’s late in the year and it’s cold, really cold,” the seven-time all-star remembers. “Sinclair, who was a backup, was on the sidelines and asked if he could borrow my gloves because he was freezing. So he stood on the sidelines most of the game and then one of our guards got hurt and I am out there on the field and I look over in the huddle see these gloves on his hand and ask Sinclair ‘are those my gloves?’ He says ‘yeah I’m freezing Al, I’m freezing.’ So he wore my good, leather gloves that you could buy for 50 bucks at a god damn store so he could protect his little pinkie,” Wilson says with a laugh.
Of course the weather would always be a factor in Regina. Although the games in the winter could be pretty daunting, the hot summer clashes were just as uncomfortable for visitors like Wilson who grew up on the West coast. Older folks will remember the Lions once made a regular trip there on the August long weekend.
“One time it was so hot there was a ten-degree change from going down into your stance and standing up. It was just a shivering heat. We were winning with about two minutes left and we ran the ball and made about 3 or 4 first downs to finish out the game. All the linemen could do was fire out and hit something. We were totally exhausted on both sides of the ball. You have to remember these were the days of 32 men on the roster. No backups like today. We went in the room and guys could only get their shoulder pads off. I think some of the guys kept their pants on when they went to shower.”
That day represented a rare triumph for the Wilson-era Lions in Regina. “The rest of the time it was the George Reed and Ron Lancaster show,” Wilson recalls. ‘”We didn’t win there too often.”
Like Taras after him, Wilson also remembers a few incidents with the rabid fans. “You could almost touch them,” Wilson says of the close proximity to the visitors’ bench. “We got into a melee once and they were throwing mickeys and debris at us the rest of the game.
“One of my first experiences there as a rookie was a winter game,” Taras remembers. “We were going in and the veterans told me ‘hey kid, keep your helmet on during the game.’ I was trying to figure out why they’d tell me to keep my helmet on because when I was on the sidelines I would like to take it off and get some blood flowing to the brain. Then I remember having my helmet off on the sidelines and the fans were throwing ice balls, you know those hardened snowballs, coffee mugs and thermoses. I then realized they wanted me to keep my helmet on so I would not get knocked out.”
Along with the big wins and occasional fan flare-ups, there were also a few tough defeats. One that will live on forever was the Western Semi-Final in 2010: the Lions were in a bit of a transition with Travis Lulay taking over as starting quarterback mid-season. They entered the playoffs on a hot streak and visions of another 1994-type run were dancing through their heads. Despite forcing overtime on a spectacular Manny Arceneaux Hail Mary catch on the final play of regulation, they would fall 41-38 in double overtime when former teammate Jason Clermont broke their hearts with a 25-yard touchdown catch to win it. Although they came up short on that chilly November afternoon, the Lions were better for it in the long run: they would sip from the Grey Cup one year later and follow that up with a 13-5 campaign in 2012.
Geroy Simon, like Clermont, played on both sides of the rivalry and agrees with that theory. “That game was a turning point. Travis came back and was the full-time starter and a lot of guys grew up,” Simon says of the 2010 setback. “I have a fond memory of dropping a touchdown in 2010 that pretty much would have sealed the game and we would have won. You have memories of dropping passes as well and I remember that vividly as well as Manny catching the Hail Mary. That game definitely got me re-focussed and helped me come back with a new attitude in 2011.”
Just two years after earning his second ring, Simon found himself living in the flat lands and dressing up in green for work every day. Although it looked fairly odd at first, it turned out to be another memorable year in the career of Superman.
” The best memories that year were scoring two touchdowns on Labour Day against Winnipeg and helping us get a big win and obviously the Grey Cup in Saskatchewan at home. I always say that’s the probably biggest game in the history of the Saskatchewan Roughriders and to be a part of that was special,” Simon recalls fondly.
Geroy had two more touchdowns in the 103rd Grey Cup and helped the Riders cruise past Hamilton 45-23. It was just the fourth championship in club history.
“It was one of my favourite places to play,” Simon says of the old stadium.”It seems like no matter how the Riders are doing throughout the year, when BC comes to town it’s always a big game and they always seem to play pretty well. I have fond memories of the place, playing against them and for them.”
From locker room fights, to melees with fans, to gut-wrenching playoff results, the old barn will be missed. New Mosaic Stadium is just steps away and will no doubt be one of pro football’s crown jewels when it’s gates open in 2017.