In the corner of my eye, I see a sixtyish mustached gentleman moving toward the van. I surmise that he will ask my husband if he can help. The hood of our campervan is up, and Elmer’s head is in the motor. He’s checking the water pump, and anything else that might be contributing to a sound he doesn’t like. No time like the present, in the Safeway parking lot in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, before we take the ferry to Haida Gwaii the next day. Despite the driving rain, the football fan sports a beige ball cap, and a quilted sleeveless beige vest over a plaid flannel shirt and beige pants.
"Someone here a Rider fan? What happened in the BC game on Sunday?" I hear him ask my husband. So it’s not about mechanics at all. He must have seen our license plate and taken a shot. Saskatchewan equals Rider Nation, right? It’s axiomatic.
In a reflex response, my husband replies, "No idea. My wife is the Rider fan. She would know."
I roll down the window. He reiterates, "Did the Riders lose? I haven’t been able to find out." I wonder how it’s possible not to know what happened, if you want to know, in the Internet age, four days after the game.
"No. In fact, they trounced the Lions 41 – 8!" I feel thrilled to be able to say it.
"You mean they won?" He can’t seem to get his head around the concept.
"Yes. Ed Gainey had four interceptions."
He laughs, his eyes dance, and he claps his hands together. He turns to leave. After all, he’s getting soaked. "I’ll tell my buddy," he adds, as he strolls off. "You made my day." Anytime. That was easy.
Until just the next morning, that was a quaint story to file away for the next round of small talk over beer and wine at a neighborhood fire. Two and a half hours before departure for Haida Gwaii, we arrive at the BC Ferries terminal. It’s early, and the attendant has lots of time. He’s feeling chatty, too. When he finds out we’re from Saskatchewan, he brings up the game. "The Lions just didn’t come ready to play," he mourns.
"Well," I say to console him a little, "it was revenge for the Riders. The Lions devoured them the week before."
He nods. "I couldn’t watch," he comments, looking dazedly into his computer. I know the feeling. "They’re really up and down. Some days they’re ready to play, and others, not."
"That’s why the Riders are 3 – 4. Same problem," I add. He hands us our photo IDs and boarding passes. Time for us to move on. We smile and wave.
I shake my head. Football is an instant conversation starter. An instant relationship forger. My knowledge of the game has taken me through parent-teacher interviews, awkward introductions in professional circles, and chats, with men, notably, when I have found myself next to a man I don’t know well around a formal dinner or a lawn chair circle at yard gathering. I imagine it must be the same for hockey aficionados. Can’t say. I know enough about other sports only to comment intelligently and to ask questions, not to draw any kind of informed conclusion.
Football, though, especially in Saskatchewan, and, it seems, throughout Canada, connects people, gives them a starting point to break the ice, and, just maybe, time and opportunity dovetailing, the confidence to explore somewhat more delicate subjects.