REGINA, Saskatchewan -- The Canadian Football League could use a big party, and the little city of Regina is up to the task as its master of ceremonies.
For decades, the word in the CFL was this city of 185,000, surrounded by the prairie that sends bone-chilling November winds through its cozy streets, was not worthy to play host to Grey Cup Week. Too cold. Not enough hotels. The stadium was considered too small to do justice to the nation's most important football game.
When the league's Board of Governors voted to award Regina the first Grey Cup in its long football history that dates to the 1890s, it did something right for a change.
If you're looking for glamour, go to Toronto or Vancouver. Regina has enough fine restaurants and museums to fit on one block in those cosmopolitan places.
Take a stroll around downtown Regina, though, and the civic pride and palpable sense of football tradition grabs you like a gust of wind. This city, the capital of Saskatchewan, has embraced the Grey Cup with a bearhug.
No matter where you look, you cannot escape the green and white colors that represent the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the host team that happens to be the second-oldest in the CFL.
In the heart of the shopping district along Hamilton Street, every other storefront window is painted with a football scene or a Grey Cup welcome message. The Scarth Street mall is awash in green and white. Go into just about any building, and you'll find a banner or poster blaring the Grey Cup Week theme -- "Huddle Up In Saskatchewan."
How much do they love their football in Regina? In a window display at Love Plus, an adult store that calls itself a One Stop Love Shop, are two mannequins wearing lingerie -- green and white, of course. They are adorned with Roughriders football helmets.
It goes beyond window dressing, however. The Roughriders are community owned, and they finished third in the CFL in #i attendance this year, averaging 28,000 during the regular season. Temporary seating has doubled the capacity of Taylor Field, where a sellout crowd of 55,000 will jam the place for Sunday's championship game between Baltimore and Calgary.
Last month, 55,000 showed up to watch a regular-season game between Calgary and the Roughriders.
Elsewhere, the CFL is headed for financial ruin. Its experiment with U.S. expansion appears doomed. This league needs a good, profitable diversion, and Regina is the perfect aspirin for its headache.
Grey Cup fever is alive and well at the Canada Trust Bank on
Hamilton Street, where all of the tellers wear "Grey Cup 95" sweat shirts and "Welcome Grey Cup visitors" tags. Most of the bank's 24-person staff are assisting as volunteers, as the city stages events ranging from a Calgary Hoedown today to tomorrow's Grey Cup parade.
"We've always had a strong, committed volunteer base in our community, and they're really getting into the spirit here," said Bob Terichow, the bank manager, who is a season-ticket holder and will be at Taylor Field on Sunday.
Terichow, who spent Wednesday night driving members of the Calgary Stampeders around the town, said Regina is out to prove a point to the country and to the CFL, which took so long to grant the city host privileges for the big game.
"Although the community is small, it has a good reputation for putting on successful events, nationally and provincially," he said. "When the Grey Cup comes to Regina, it's a major event. Our reputations are at stake. It's about prairie pride."
Prairie pride is pulsating under the Big Top, a large, heated tent in the city's Market Square, which is the center of the party. Here, between 8 a.m. and 3 a.m. all week, hundreds of people gather to eat beef, drink beer and listen to live comedy and country and western music. The banners of every CFL team are hanging. Fans from other cities mingle easily with the natives.
"We've waited a long time for the Grey Cup. Saskatchewan fans are probably the greatest in the world. We deserve it. We're great," said Edward Hodgkinson, 34, who works as a cook at Regina's airport.
His favorite player is still Baltimore nose tackle Jearld Baylis, who played for Saskatchewan in 1992 and 1993. He says Calgary will win on Sunday, but is pulling for the Stallions.
"You can come from Edmonton or Baltimore or Los Angeles, and we'll be your friend," he added. "A prairie person is about love and hospitality and friendship."
Janice St. Denis, a 28-year-old senior revenue clerk at the Saskatchewan Transportation Co. who has owned season tickets for five years, seconds that opinion. She has the week off, and is spending it working as a Grey Cup volunteer.
"Regina is a small city, but per capita, we have more people who will give to any service than any other city in the world," she said. "I just wanted to be part of the festivities and the excitement. There is so much emotion going all over the place. Everybody is so happy. It's finally here!"
Stallions (17-3) vs. Calgary Stampeders (17-3)
Site: Taylor field, Regina, Saskatchewan
When: Sunday, 5:30 p.m.
TV/Radio: ESPN2/WJFK (1300AM, WGRX (100.7 FM)