I was twelve years old the first time I went to a game at Taylor Field. I'm fairly certain that it was a game against the Memphis Mad Dogs - one of the final five teams that were part of the CFL's shortlived American experiment that ended at the end of that season when the Baltimore Stallions won the Grey Cup at Taylor Field that November. The game was on Sunday, September 17, 1995, which was the only time that the Mad Dogs visited Taylor Field.
My grandfather worked for in advertising the Co-operators for years, and he would get tickets every so often through his work. He would take me and a couple of my uncles to a game when he did, but I only remember going to that game against the Mad Dogs and one other game. I know that I was at the game in which Don Narcisse caught a pass in his 138th consecutive game to break Tony Gabriel's record, but that may have been in that game against Memphis. (I tried to find the exact information about that game, but the internet was surprisingly unhelpful in that endeavour.)
I had the misfortune of having my formative years as a sports fan between the ages of 11 and 18 overlap with the second-worst stretch in Riders' history, as the team finished with six or fewer wins in six of seven seasons between 1995 and 2001. (The only worse stretch in Riders history, by the way, was the eleven season span between 1977 - the year after they lost the Grey Cup to Ottawa - and 1987, in which they finished no higher than 4th in the West, missed the playoffs every year, and finished .500 or better only twice.)
The lone exception in that stretch was the team's run to the Grey Cup in 1997, when Reggie Slack inexplicably led an 8-10 team to two road wins in the playoffs before getting creamed by the heavily-favoured Toronto Argonauts. I remember watching that game with detached bemusement, knowing that it was the very definition of a "we're glad just to be here" kind of game.
Then things started to change in the early aughts after the team hired Roy Shivers and Danny Barrett to run the team, and soon the team's trajectory shifted significantly away from poor coaches, bad teams, and telethons to save the Riders to becoming the pre-eminent franchise of the CFL. Oddly enough, I did not actually go to a game while I lived in Regina during my early university years from 2000-2003; then again, I was not a huge fan of the Riders in those days.
But the truth is that the Riders were not a huge part of my life until I was in my early twenties. I have vague memories of my family crowding into my grandfather's apartment during the 1989 Grey Cup when I was six years old; I was bored and was given a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to read. (And no, I'm not remember those details incorrectly; I actually could read Adams' books even at that age, even if I could not understand most of the nuance of the text.)
I do remember Paul McCallum missing the 18-yard field goal in overtime that would have sent the Riders to the Grey Cup in 2004, but I had nowhere near the emotional devastation of most fans, since I did not have much personal investment in the fortunes of the team. That memory, along with most of my memories of the Riders, was significant mostly as an incidental memory of something that was happening to my people in Saskatchewan, rather than an event that affected me directly.
That started to change in 2007. I went to the Labour Day Classic against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers that year - my first live regular season game in over a decade - and it was a doozy, with eight lead changes and this instantly classic touchdown by Kerry Joseph to win the game.
The Riders went on to win the Grey Cup that year over those Bombers, and little did I realize what the next few years would hold in terms of my fandom of the team. That Grey Cup did a lot to reignite my own love of the team - as it did for much of the province - but there was another factor for me: moving away from Saskatchewan for the first time.
After I moved out to Vancouver Island, my love of the Riders intensified instantly, as they now represented part of my home. I watched several games each year - something I had not really done when I lived in Saskatchewan - and I became known in my communities in Victoria for cheering for the green and white. I was not able to go to any games at Taylor Field - or Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field as it had come to be known - during my years away, but the Riders were now more of a presence in my life than they had ever been.
It was a great time to be a fan of the team. Despite losses in the 2009 and 2010 Grey Cups, including that "13th man" game, I thoroughly enjoyed wearing my Saskatchewan colours on game day in hostile territory - although, to be honest, I often saw more people wearing Riders gear than Lions gear, so it was not nearly as hostile as it could have been. Being a fan of the Riders was part of who I was, and it kept me connected to my home on the prairies.
But my most cherished memory of Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field, and of the Riders by far, was their win in the 101st Grey Cup in 2013. It would be the last time that I would watch the Riders win from afar, as I moved back to Saskatchewan the next year, not in small part due to that game. My wife and I had strongly considered finding a way to be back in Saskatchewan for that game even without having tickets to the Grey Cup, just so we could be there to celebrate when the team inevitably won. (I doubt, by the way, that there has ever been an outcome so guaranteed in sport as that game - unless you include that 1997 Grey Cup that the Riders lost.)
I remember that evening so clearly; we watched the game with close friends who, despite being Lions fans who had watched their team lose to the Riders only two weeks earlier, were wearing green and white to support us. I vividly remember tearing up during the national anthem, and having the distinct thought that these were our people as the cameras panned over the crowds throughout the game.
I remember our concern after Hamilton took an early lead, but it was shortlived, as the Riders soon not only took the lead but dominated the rest of the game. It was an incredible game, and an incredible moment - and though we were overjoyed to share it with our friends in BC, we were torn not to be at home with our people in Saskatchewan, filling into Albert Street in raucous celebration. It was a watershed moment in our journey back to the prairies, and although we did not make the final decision to move for another six months or so, I think our hearts were sealed that day.
I have made it out to a handful of games after moving back to Regina, including two Labour Day Classics, and although I have enjoyed the experience each time, the overall experience of being a Riders fan has not nearly been as much fun over the past two years. Since I moved back after Labour Day 2014, the Riders have had a record of 12-30, including one playoff loss, and they have only won one game of the four I attended (the 2015 Labour Day Classic). It has not been a great time to be a Rider fan, but I do have hope that the worst of it is behind us.
I am excited for the new stadium and for what it represents for the team and for this community. It has been a long time since Saskatchewan has worried about the financial fate of the team, and it will be a long time before that happens again. There is an argument to be made that New Mosaic is the best stadium in the league, and I am very much looking forward to watching football there - especially since the Riders should be better next season.
I will miss Taylor Field, though. It certainly had its detriments, especially if there was any kind of wind, rain, or snow, but it was an incredible place to watch football games. I watched games from each side of the stadium at some point and enjoyed every time. It was great to be a part of a loud crowd helping to cause time count violation penalties for the opposing team; it was even more fun to be a kid hearing the crowd shouting PG-13 words in unison at the referees after a bad call.
I'm sure that New Mosaic Stadium will have just as many great moments - if not more - than Taylor Field has, but I'm glad that I got to be a part of history over the past couple of decades. Thanks, Taylor Field, for the memories.