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Canadian football evolved from English rugby football, a game that began at a soccer match in Rugby, England in 1823 when a player named William Webb Ellis suddenly picked up the ball, started to run with it and was tackled by an opponent. The game was introduced to North America by the British Army garrison who played the game with McGill University. The first recorded game of football in Canada was played at the University of Toronto College on November 9, 1861. Associations were organized in each province and the Canadian Rugby Union (CRU) was established in 1884 as the governing body.
Regina’s first organized rugby football team were members of Regina’s North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) who traveled to Winnipeg to play two games against the Winnipeg Football Club in 1888. The first recorded game of football in Saskatchewan was played by the NWMP in 1890 and in 1907 the Saskatchewan Rugby Football League was formed. It was also in 1907 that the CRU standardized aspects of the game that brought it closer to what it is today.
On September 13, 1910, the Regina Rugby Club was formed and adopted the colours of old gold and purple. Nine days later, on September 22, the Saskatchewan Rugby Football Union (SRFU) was organized and adopted CRU rules. Teams from Regina, Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Weyburn were to compete in the league; however, only Regina and Moose Jaw were able to organize teams that first season. Regina and Moose Jaw played their first game in Moose Jaw on October 1, 1910 that saw the Moose Jaw Tigers claim a 16–6 victory.
On October 21, 1911, the Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan Unions formed the Western Canada Rugby Football Union (WCRFU). Winnipeg realtor Hugo Ross donated the championship trophy bearing his name. He subsequently drowned in the sinking of the SS Titanic in April 1912. Only teams registered with the CRU were eligible to compete for the Grey Cup, a trophy donated by Governor General Earl Grey for the Rugby Football Championship of Canada. Since the WCRFU was not a full member of the CRU, the 1911 Western Champions, the Calgary Tigers, were not allowed to compete for the national championship.
The Regina Rugby Club changed its colours in 1911 to blue and white to match the Regina Amateur Athletic Association. The colours were changed again in 1912 to red and black, the infantry colours of the Canadian contingent which fought with Teddy Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War. The team kept these colours for 36 years. The Regina Rugby Club changed its name to the “Regina Roughriders” in 1924. One theory is that they were named after this Canadian contingent that had become known as the “Roughriders.” The other theory is that the name came from the NWMP who were called Roughriders because they broke the wild horses that were used by the force.
The Grey Cup game was suspended from 1916–19 during World War I. In 1921 the WCRFU joined the CRU and the Edmonton Eskimos became the first Western team to play in a Grey Cup game. Although the Saskatchewan Roughriders won the Western Conference Championships seven times between 1928 and 1951, they were unsuccessful in obtaining a Grey Cup victory. The Regina team played its first Grey Cup in 1923, losing to Queen’s University 54–0. The team played its second Grey Cup game on December 1, 1928, in the first Grey Cup game ever covered by radio broadcast. In 1929, Regina’s “Jersey Jack” Campbell made the first-ever forward pass thrown in a Grey Cup game. On December 3, 1932, the Regina Roughriders became the first team to win five Division Championships and play in five consecutive Grey Cup games.
In 1936 the Western Interprovincial Football Union (WIFU) was formed with Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Calgary Bronks and Regina Roughriders. A white ball was used at games played under floodlights in western Canada to enhance its visibility for the spectators.
Regina’s Taylor Field opened in 1946. The field was named after Neil J. “Piffles” Taylor, a prominent Regina rugby and football player who left the game in 1916 to serve as a pilot in World War I. After spending a year as a prisoner-of-war he was released in 1918. Despite the loss of an eye, Taylor played as quarterback for the Regina Roughriders and claimed victory over Calgary, winning the 1919 Hugo Ross trophy. Taylor served as president of the Regina Roughriders, the CRU and the WIFU.
When the Moose Jaw and Saskatoon teams dissolved in 1948, the Regina Roughriders became a provincially owned and operated club popularly known as the Saskatchewan Roughriders, a name they would officially adopt on April 1, 1950. Financial constraints prevented the team from replacing their worn out uniforms. In 1948 executive member Jack Fyffe found a set of green and white jerseys at a surplus store in Chicago and the legacy of “Green and White” was born. In 1989 the uniform was updated with the addition of silver and black to the “Green and White” along with a new logo.
Tragedy struck the Saskatchewan Roughriders on December 9, 1956, when Flight #810 flying from Vancouver to Regina crashed into the side of Mount Sleese in the Rockies: 62 passengers and crew were killed including Winnipeg Blue Bomber Calvin Jones and Roughriders Gordon Sturtridge, Mel Beckett, Ray Syrnyk and Mario DeMarco who were returning from the Shrine All Star Game in Vancouver. The families of Mel Beckett and Mario DeMarco donated the Beckett-DeMarco trophy to recognize the Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman in the West.
On November 26, 1966, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, led by coach Eagle Keys, won their first Grey Cup defeating the Ottawa Rough Riders 29–14 in Vancouver’s Empire Stadium. The Saskatchewan Roughriders again represented the Western Division in the 1967, 1969, 1972 and 1976 Grey Cup games. On November 19, 1989, Head Coach John Gregory led The Saskatchewan Roughriders to their second Grey Cup victory on a last-second field goal by Dave Ridgeway, defeating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 43–40 at Toronto’s Skydome in the highest scoring game in Grey Cup history. In the 1997 Grey Cup, Saskatchewan was defeated 47–23 by Toronto, a team they had not faced since the 1930 game between Regina and Balmy Beach. Regina hosted the Grey Cup game on November 19, 1995, and on November 16, 2003. At the 1995 game, the Baltimore Stallions became the first and only American-based team to win the trophy, defeating the Calgary Stampeders 36–20.
Though they play in the CFL’s smallest market, The Saskatchewan Roughriders have been referred to as the most loved team in the CFL. On October 14, 1995, 55,438 fans crammed into Regina’s Taylor Field, whose capacity was 27,732, to watch Saskatchewan beat Calgary 25–23. Their fans are known for their loyalty, enthusiasm and “Rider Pride” and make every home game a province-wide celebration.
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