It’s the endearing sense players have for the game of football that is revealed when they are asked for their memories of a place that will be visited for the last time Saturday when the B.C. Lions travel to face the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Stadium.
That’s because there is absolutely nothing endearing about the place that will always be known to many as Taylor Field, a Ron Lancaster throw on the other side of the railroad tracks from downtown Regina. Comparatively speaking, it’s a dump. Sorry. Too many walks up the endless ramps leading to the press box upstairs make it impossible to think anything else. Too many coats of paint doesn’t cover up the fact that after playing football on the same site for 80 years it’s time to move.
However to the performers on stage, the final act before Saskatchewan joins the legion of 21st century stadia brings back an endless wave of games at a place where surprisingly, the Lions have fared well. There’s actually something on the line Saturday besides a possible home playoff game for the Lions, whose lifetime record is just a game above .500 at 46-45-2 in the old barn.
Securing a win in a place where football is more than an activity has added meaning for veteran players, who recall what it is like to walk around Regina on game day when half the local population is dressed in Riders green.
So the most tenured player on the Lions, 12-year man Ryan Phillips, didn’t need much prompting to recall his most memorable Mosaic moments. Here’s a list of top games during Phillips’ run, plus one or two others, which are sure to be brought up again before the Lions get on their charter flight home Saturday night.
2008: Hot time in the hot tub – If there was ever a more soothing win it came in the divisional semifinal, when the Lions subdued the Riders and offensive lineman Rob Murphy, who played a big part in recent history, delivered the line of the decade.
Murphy and Angus Reid decided the best way to celebrate a road win over the Riders was to jump in the hot tub which was a fixture at games back in the day, and were a little miffed when the locals didn’t receive them as warmly as the water.
“They said ‘get the [deleted] out of our tub’,” Murphy said. “Saskatchewan fans. They’re ruthless and toothless.”
2008: The beer shower – It may be just a coincidence of course, but the Lions attempted celebration came not long after their previous visit, which was halted at one point when Wally Buono took his team to midfield during the game in order to quell a disturbance behind their bench.
A good deal of perfectly decent Pilsner was launched from beer cans in the direction of the Lions after Dante Marsh elected to donate a football to a Riders fan but threw it not exactly in a giving way.
“These people are just idiots. Absolute idiots,” said Lions kicker Paul McCallum, who was still living in Regina at the time. Not long later, the Riders ditched the sale of beer in cans for plastic cups.
2007: Tag-team terror – If Murphy hadn’t already secured his reputation as the league’s dirtiest player at the time, he was well on his way during a fine September afternoon when he and teammate Sherko Haji-Rasouli were centre stage in a brawl.
A lasting image of the day was captured (above) when Murphy had a young John Chick pinned to the ground and raised his fist ready to clock the Riders defender if he moved.
Haji-Rasouli, who was no choir boy either, later learned that the frivolity of the day wasn’t confined to the field but to the press box, where GM Eric Tillman and Lions counterpart Bob Ackles got into a heated exchange. Tillman charged that Buono couldn’t control his players. Truth was, nobody could control them.
2006: Coming up short – Murphy had no shortage of role models with the Lions of course. Almost exactly one year earlier he was part of yet another melee started by teammate Otis Floyd, who took exception to the fact Jason Armstead of the Riders decided to walk among the Lions while they were stretching on the Taylor Field carpet before the game.
The only difference in those days was that players and coaches also weren’t the only onlookers getting in on the fun. Murphy claimed he was lined up by Riders coach Danny Barrett while upstairs Rod Pedersen, still the team’s play-by-play voice, excitedly told a puzzled Province beat reporter attending the match as the two walked by each other at halftime: “Your guys are a bunch of goons.”
The game ended as strangely as it began, with Buono instructing McCallum to punt the ball out the end zone instead of a last-play 35-yard field goal attempt in regulation, only the wind prevented the kick from reaching the end line, which allowed the Riders to eventually win in overtime.
2003: Farm animals rejoice – Buono surely didn’t know the kind of team he had assembled when he took the Lions on the road for the first time in the regular season as head coach, but Riders lineman Scott Schultz had a pretty good idea.
“They’re fat. They’re wobbly. They’re fat and sassy pigs out there. They’ve got nothing.” Schultz said as he leaned into a CBC camera. Buono lost his first road game with the Lions that day but a few years later had indeed found the right mix of players with swagger in Murphy and Jason Jimenez.
2010: A Grey Cup in sight – No season during Buono’s tenure ever ended with such promise as the divisional semifinal that year, even if it didn’t finish well for the Lions and new quarterback Travis Lulay.
Lulay found Emmanuel Arceneaux with a game-tying 29-yard touchdown throw on the final play of regulation that was clearly highlight reel material for the receiver, who bolted for the NFL the following season.
It did not matter that Arceneaux left soon after former Lions receiver Jason Clermont ended B.C’s season with the winning touchdown in overtime. It was obvious the Lions had the nucleus of a winner, which eventually materialized after an 0-5 start the following season in the 2011 Grey Cup.
“It was kind of a coming of age moment, a crazy game, a classic CFL shootout,” recalled Lulay this week. “My longest touchdown pass, to Arland Bruce, in 2011 also happened in that stadium. Countless guys could say the same about how many memories were made in that stadium.”
And the most decorated member of the Lions genuinely seems sad to see the end of Mosaic too, possibly because his classic cat-and-mouse battles with Darian Durant will now have to be played out down the street, assuming the Riders quarterback gets a much-discussed extension and Phillips wants a uniform himself.
“To be honest I’ve always said it’s the second-best environment I’ve played; besides playing at home you can’t ask for anything else,” Phillips said. “They have fans that are dedicated to their team, you admire their following and their atmosphere. I’m definitely going to miss it.”
Even if he might not miss the thought of a cold shower in the white-walled cubbyhole that passes for the visiting locker room.