Saskatchewan residents were in an uproar on Canada Day.
No, it wasn’t because severe storms swept through the province on our nation’s 152nd birthday, wreaking havoc with some Canada Day festivities. (Sadly, Bienfait’s bash was among the ones affected, as their fireworks display was cut shortfor the second straight year).
And no, it wasn’t over something that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in his address to the country. (Although it was interesting to see Trudeau wade into a partisan, campaign-style speech that would have made U.S. President Donald Trump proud).
No, our source of frustration came during the Saskatchewan Roughriders game.
The Riders thumped the Toronto Argonauts 32-7. There was a two-hour delay due to a thunderstorm.
The storm could be forgiven. Fans had fun during the storm delay. Many stuck around afterwards, although you have to wonder how many were there for football, and how many waited to find out if they won the 50-50 draw.
But what really drew the fans’ ire was the makeover for Gainer the Gopher, the team’s beloved mascot.
Now, I’ll admit I generally don’t give a damn about mascots. Oh sure, I laughed at the Philly Fanatic and the San Diego Chicken. I really laughed when Mariner Moose took a spill while waterskiing behind an ATV. And I have an autographed from Youppi, the legendary mascot of my beloved Montreal Expos.
But outside of a handful of teams, I can’t tell you much about mascots in any sport.
Gainer’s one of the few mascots I can identify. Sure a lot of his antics are clichéd, like waving the defence signs at midfield to energize the nervous crowd at a key point in the game. But he’d also lay down on the field and watch in admiration during the cheerleader routine, and he was capable of some pretty good acrobatics.
He did his job well, he knew how to entertain the masses and he could be found at many events across the province.
It’s not a job I would want. No matter how many mini-fans are blowing in that outfit, it won’t be enough when it’s 30 C outside.
For some inexplicable reason, the Riders decided now was the time to give Gainer a makeover. A slimmed down look. Running shoes. A bigger smile. And crazy eyes. I mean, really crazy eyes.
It’s nice that they’re green, but they’re just crazy looking.
I don’t know why anyone thought Gainer needed a refreshed look. And I definitely can’t believe that someone was paid to come up with that design, or that people in the Rider organization gave the thumbs up to the idea.
Maybe the person who designed Gainer Version 2.0 is a closet Bombers fan.
Since this is 2019, fans shared their disdain in the fashion you would expect. They took to social media to mock the new-look Gainer. They laughed at the eyes, the smile and the seven months he seemingly spent on Weight Watchers.
And, since we’re living in 2019, there’s even a petition out there to bring the old Gainer look back.
Who wants to talk about a convincing victory in the home opener, or the great game by Rider quarterback Cody Fajardo? There’s an ugly new look for the mascot to pan.
Rider fans suffer from premature evaluation more than any other fan base I’ve seen, but they were right to loathe the new Gainer look the moment they saw it.
I remember, back in 2000, just before I moved to Estevan, I went to a B.C. Lions game with my old college roommate. It might have been against the Riders. And I remember that night the Lions unveilled some ghastly thing they named The Beast.
There was a cage covered by a drape. Then an explosion went off. Smoke went in the air. And we saw the least-intimidating mascot in sports history.
I don’t condone performance-enhancing drugs, but The Beast could have used a serious infusion of steroids. Maybe then it might have been as imposing as a poodle.
It might have been designed to spell off B.C. Lions mascot Leo the Lion, or maybe it was meant to be a partner in crime for Leo.
Anyways, The Beast didn’t last too long. I’m not sure was there at the end of the season to see the Lions beat the Montreal Alouettes in the Grey Cup. You don’t see it at Lions games anymore, and Leo the Lion is still in a one-mascot den.
It’s time for the Saskatchewan Roughriders to toss the new Gainer look in the same mascot scrap heap as B.C.’s Beast.
At the next game, or maybe during the Labour Day Classic, have someone out there dressed in the new Gainer outfit, trying to cheer the Riders on. And then have the person who regularly dresses as Gainer come out in the real Gainer outfit, and lay waste to the new outfit.
If you thought a Charleston Hughes sack on Matt Nichols late in the fourth quarter of the Labour Day Classic would get a big reaction, imagine the cheers that the demise of New Gainer, at the hands of Real Gainer, would generate.