By Paul Wiecek
WINNIPEG — Meet you on the 55-yard line, Reverend.
Well, now. It is not every day that a football player and an ordained minister challenge each other to a scrap. But then with the Labour Day Classic between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders set for Sunday at Regina’s Mosaic Stadium, these are hardly ordinary times.
Grown men will be wearing watermelons on their heads in Regina. Old ladies will be hurling vile epithets at Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce, whose feelings will be a little hurt because he’s just that kind of guy. There will be lots and lots of urinating, some of it even in the restrooms.
And Roughriders middle linebacker Barrin Simpson — the so-called Minister of Defence — and Bombers cornerback Jovon Johnson will apparently be circling each other in the pre-game warm-up.
It was probably just a matter of time that someone from the Roughriders — as players from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and B.C. Lions did before them — started talking tough about the Bombers’ self-styled Swaggerville.
It took until Thursday and it took a Bombers alumnus in Simpson to finally fire the shot.
“Any team that’s carrying a swag, you want to punch them in the mouth and make them doubt,” Simpson told a scrum of reporters in Regina.
“Here we go again,” replied Johnson, the CEO of Swaggerville. “Guys in our league are going to take their shots and say what they want. It’s like Doug (Brown) said in his (Winnipeg Free Press) column this week — people who didn’t think of (Swaggerville) and didn’t create it hate it the most.
“Well, I’m the one who created Swaggerville, so if that’s what Barrin Simpson wants to do — meet me at the middle of the field. I’ll be there on Sunday.”
“That’s interesting,” continued Bombers tackle Doug Brown. “After last week, when (Hamilton receiver) Dave Stala came out and threatened all of us, I sold all my Swagger stuff. So I don’t even have any Swag stuff left. Of course, it didn’t work out too good for Dave (who had one catch last Friday in a 30-27 Ticats’ loss to Winnipeg).
“Now, Barrin saying something like that — I’m disappointed in him. He’s an ordained minister and that’s not very Christian of him. I’d expect something more like, ‘I will strike down on thee with vengeance.’ That’d be more fitting for him.”
Well, now. And so it went in a week when the front offices of both clubs got into the act before the players, erecting rival billboards in each other’s cities.
The Riders went first with a billboard on Route 90 depicting a Riders fan and directing people to a Facebook website promoting something called ‘The Riders Oath.’ The Bombers fired back with three electronic billboards in Regina, which flash about once a minute with the caption: ‘We love our Saskatchewan neighbours: They’re just a little backwards” and depict the Bombers and Roughriders current records, which are mirror images of one another at 7-1 and 1-7 respectively.
Jerry Maslowsky, the Bombers vice-president of marketing, said the Bombers bought and paid for the three billboard spots. “This is what the rivalry is all about it,” Maslowsky said.
“It says that they are really good at math,’’ Riders kicker Eddie Johnson told the Regina Leader-Post on Thursday. “Not only do they have swagger, but they are also mathematicians.’’
Well now. Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice has been adamant this season that amidst all the publicity surrounding Swaggerville, his players confine their talking to opponents to the playing field. So how does the football operations department reconcile that with his own front office erecting billboards in Regina?
“I can assure you,” said LaPolice, “that this team and this coaching staff has the utmost respect for that team and that coaching staff. I think that stuff is a lot of fun and a lot of fun for the fans.
“I don’t know what the billboards say, but I’m sure they don’t say, ‘We think you guys are terrible.’ ”
Not exactly, no. But this kind of does: “How (do you) keep a roughrider outta your yard?” Bombers defensive back Deon Beasley retweeted Friday. “Put up a goalpost.”