More than pride on the line for Sask. Roughriders in Labour Day Classic

Nicholas Dheilly will be out for revenge on Sunday.

Dheilly, now a defensive lineman in his second season with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, was drafted by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the 2020 CFL draft. The league missed a season that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bombers signed him in 2021, but demoted him to the practice roster in July, then cut him in November.

“You want to prove to them that they f—ed up,” said Dheilly, who also plays special teams for the green-and-white.

“I can’t wait to go out there and just fly around, and have fun with my boys.”

A sold-out crowd will flock to Regina’s Mosaic Stadium Sunday to witness another chapter of the Labour Day Classic, the annual grudge match between the Roughriders and rival Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The CFL tradition spans nearly six decades.

A white man with long brown hair and a thick, scruffy brown beard, is wearing a green football jersey and a black headband with the CFL logo on the front. He is standing on an indoor turf field.
Nicholas Dheilly, a Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive lineman and special teams player, wants to prove to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers that they were wrong to cut him in 2021. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

Saskatchewan holds the winning record when it comes to Labour Day games, but they’ve dropped the last two.

They also haven’t beaten Winnipeg when it counts, in general, since Oct. 5, 2019.

“We’ve got a bad taste in our mouth,” said wide receiver Mitchell Picton, who is from Regina.

“I’ve been a part of too many losses. It’s time to flip the script.”

The Roughriders’ roster features a handful of players from Saskatchewan. Several of them, during interviews with CBC News, recounted attending Labour Day games with their families growing up.

A white man, with short dark hair and dark stubble on his face, is wearing a white headband and white football jersey. He is standing inside an indoor soccer facility.
Roughriders wide receiver Mitchell Picton recalls the atmosphere of Labour Day games while growing up in Regina. He says he’s thankful to be playing in another one. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

They especially remember the noise from the crowd.

“All that sticks out for me is going to the games and just Riders fans yelling at anybody who was wearing a Winnipeg jersey,” said Dheilly, a Regina boy who played football for the University of Saskatchewan.

Most of the hometown players have been here before, so they’re prepared for the atmosphere and emotions of the Labour Day Classic.

But this will be Jaxon Ford’s first.

The rookie from Regina, whose grandfather Alan Ford was a longtime Roughrider, told reporters he has watched Labour Day games his whole life. Last year, he was selling 50/50 tickets at Mosaic Stadium during the game.

A young white man with short brown hair is wearing a green football jersey. He is standing on artificial turf, located in an indoor soccer facility.
Rookie Jaxon Ford is excited to be playing in his first Labour Day Classic, after watching them for many years. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

“I’m screaming, running out of that tunnel on Sunday,” Ford said.

“It means everything, really. Going from watching to playing, it’s pretty sweet.”

Aside from pride, Sunday’s game is significant for the Riders’ season.

The club entered their bye week coming off a Week 11 win against the B.C. Lions. As of publication, the Riders were firmly in third place of the west division, but a win on Sunday would push their record above .500.

Meanwhile, the Bombers, arguably the league’s best team so far this season, will try to extend their current win streak to six games.

A bald white man, with a grey goatee, is wearing an army-green t-shirt and a green lanyard. He is standing in an indoor soccer facility.
Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson says the team understands what’s at stake heading into the Labour Day Classic against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

“[A win would] be really big,” Riders head coach Craig Dickenson told reporters Friday. “It gets us back in the conversation for, hopefully, a home playoff game — because that’s the goal — and it would really give us a big boost of confidence.”

The Riders lost 45-27 to the Bombers when they last squared off in Week 2. A Saskatchewan victory on Sunday would even the regular season series, before the team travels to Winnipeg next week for the Banjo Bowl.

The Labour Day Classic kicks off at Mosaic Stadium at 5 p.m. CST Sunday.

The club also hosts its annual Roughriders Fan Day at the stadium on Saturday. That event, free to the public, starts at 11 a.m. CST.

Fans can watch the team’s walkthrough, which starts at 11:30 a.m., then get onto the field themselves to meet the players at 12:45 p.m.