Roughrider fans have lived – and died – with their team for over 100 years.
That rich history has proven to be good subject matter for book authors over the years – and the fan base has proven to be a ready-made market of customers for those efforts.
Now, those interested in Riders history have one more title to add to their bookshelf: 100 Things Roughriders Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die.
The author is Rob Vanstone, sports columnist with the Regina Leader-Post. Vanstone has already penned two books on Saskatchewan Roughriders history: West Riders Best about the 1966 Grey Cup winning team, and The Greatest Grey Cup Ever, about the ’89 Riders.
As Vanstone explains in speaking to the News-Optimist, this latest book marks a departure in format from those previous two.
“It’s different because it’s just the breadth of the subject matter,” Vanstone said. “There’s really no parameters to it.”
He was able to stretch the story about the ’66 Grey Cup team back to 1951 in his previous book, and the ’89 story back to Tony Gabriel’s infamous catch for Ottawa in the ’76 Grey Cup. And those books also followed what happened to the players after the Grey Cup.
This book, however, encompassed the entire history.
“It’s the first all-encompassing project about the Riders I’ve ever done,” Vanstone said. “I’ve followed the team since the early seventies, so I’ve seen and lived a lot of it, and I’m pretty familiar with the history into the Sixties and Fifties and whatever, but I never really dove into anything dating back to 1910, 1911, 1912. That was a real eye opener for me, was really for the first time exploring and diving into and immersing the details dating back to the Riders’ inception.”
The publisher, Triumph Books, has released other “100 Things” books for fans of other professional and college teams in several sports, including several Canadian teams. Each book contains 100 chapters of things to know about each team.
This Riders project was their first foray into the CFL, and they approached Vanstone to put it together.
“They gave me pretty much carte blanche,” Vanstone said about the 100 things would be. “They just said pick your 100 things and if you want to do some sidebars feel free.”
Vanstone included 100 chapters and about 20 more add-ons, including in those chapters what he thought was the “coolest of the cool” about the Riders history. Another difference is that while the other books told the story chronologically, the chapters here "can go to 1910 to 1984 to 1911 in a hurry,” said Vanstone.
Vanstone said it really was a struggle to keep the book at 100 chapters. He sat down and initially came up with 150 topics, and finally got it down to 115 or 120, at which point he was able to turn those remaining chapters into sidebars.
The book itself covers the highlights and also the low points of Roughriders history, including the Grey Cup wins and the iconic players. Chapter numbers lent themselves easily to the numbers of famous Roughrider players: Vanstone wrote chapter 23 on Ron Lancaster, and chapter 34 was on George Reed, and so on.
“I had great fun matching chapter numbers to player uniform numbers. I don’t know why that resonates with me.”
Vanstone put the manuscript together through 2018 and into 2019, and as he was finishing it up a few curveballs were thrown his way.
“I didn’t envision Chris Jones leaving, so I had to redo the Chris Jones chapter,” said Vanstone. Suddenly he also had to include a Jeremy O’Day and Craig Dickenson chapter as well.
“Then I thought I had everything set, and then in the spring they signed Jon Ryan. So I thought, ‘well, there’s going to be a Jon Ryan chapter.’”
The finished product was “never really carved in stone” until August, which allowed Vanstone to be able to include the game the Riders played in Montreal that was shortened due to lightning, which had parallels to a game in 1954 that was shortened by fog. Vanstone sent a note to the publishers just two days before the book was scheduled to go to press and they were able to include it.
Highlights for Vanstone included finding out “little nuggets about things that I thought I heard everything about, but I guess I was wrong.” The first chapter was about the 2013 Grey Cup, and in interviewing Darian Durant about it, he had told him that after the confetti flew and the celebrations ended at the stadium, he went home and got changed, and “dove into the mob that was the Green mob on Albert Street” and exchanged high-fives with the fans celebrating after the big win.
That prompted a lot of double takes from the crowd. “That’s the quarterback? In the middle of all of us?”
“That gave me a different perspective on this historic event six years ago. I think it was a unique bit of Canadiana, too, that typified the Canadian Football League.”
He also spoke to head coach Ken Miller about the infamous 13th Man incident from the 2009 Grey Cup, in which a too-many-men penalty cost the Riders the game and the Cup. Vanstone said Miller told him it still haunts him even now.
“He took that one really hard,” Vanstone said.
“That’s one of the interesting things about this team … how it’s survived the misfortunes of so many Grey Cup losses, so many heartbreaks, more telethons than I’m probably aware of.”
There are other interesting nuggets in the book that might surprise fans. Vanstone noted that Bill Belichick’s dad Steve had been a guest coach with the Riders back in the 1950s. “I had no idea,” Vanstone said.
He included a chapter on Roughriders who had NFL or AFL connections. One such standout was Gino Cappelletti who tried out for the Riders’ in the Fifties and went on to a famous career with the Patriots in the American Football League.
The book also includes some of the “quirky” moments of Rider history – such as a chapter on the Riders’ “tenuous links to O.J. Simpson.”
Among those: O.J’s friend Al Cowlings, involved in the infamous Bronco chase on the freeways of LA, once played for the Montreal Alouettes at Taylor Field against the Riders.
Including those sorts of trivia was something Vanstone really enjoyed, and something he hopes will be “appreciated by some of the Rider history wonks out there”.
For this latest book, Vanstone turned once again to Dave Ridgway to write the foreword, something he had also done for the book on the ’89 Riders. “I thought why mess with something that was so perfect,” said Vanstone.
This is bound to be the type of book Rider fans will want to have, just in time for the playoffs.
“I’m a pretty voracious reader so I have a pretty good idea of what I like in a sports book, so I hope that aided me in doing a bit of mind-reading, you never really know for sure,” said Vanstone.
It’s also a book where he hasn’t had those moments afterwards where he panicked about leaving out something important from the club’s history. “I’m pleased to this point I haven’t had any regrets about the contents,” Vanstone said.
The release date of the book is Nov. 5, but some copies have already found their way to McNally Robinson in Saskatoon for sale there. The book can also be found at Amazon.ca and at chapters.indigo.ca.