For many football fans in Alberta, Labour Day is much more than just another long weekend.
It’s a celebration of one of Canadian sport’s greatest traditions: the Labour Day Classic between the Calgary Stampeders and the team formerly known as the Edmonton Eskimos (EE Football team).
McMahon Stadium itself remained empty this Labour Day due to COVID-19 public health restrictions. Earlier this year, the CFL season was cancelled.
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Still, fans gathered in the stadium parking lot and braved the rain, cold and hail to keep their time-honoured football tradition alive.
“We gotta keep the tradition alive – Labour Day is the best game of the year and tailgating is part of the culture and we got to hang out and have some fun, especially this year,” said Morgan Melnyk, Stampeders fan and season ticket holder.
Melnyk and his group of about five friends gathered at McMahon Monday afternoon with their usual Labour Day Classic set up. It had a couple of tents to help fight the elements, a grill and several camping chairs that surrounded a propane firepit.
“I think we all miss live sports. Being a season ticket holder, you kind of miss being a part of something bigger,” he said.
“It’s just sad it’s not happening, so you have to keep some of it alive.”
Hope for a more formal Calgary Stampeders event
For other fans, there was hope that the Stampeders would have put together a more formal event to help fans fill the void of the missing season.
Initially, long-time season ticket holder Dougall Cameron reached out to members of the administrative staff at the Stampeders to request a more formal gathering for the annual game. That request was denied because of the Alberta public health restrictions.
Tailgating with other fellow fans outside the stadium was the next best option.
“It’s just nice to sit at McMahon again. Even if we can’t go in,” said Cameron.
Ease her pain
Superfan Connie Fekete said gathering with football family at McMahon helped ease her pain of the cancelled season.
“People are missing football even more today because it is usually such a big, big game,” said Fekete.
“So we are freezing our butts off in the snow wishing there was football to watch.”
It wasn’t only the fans who were missing the annual game on Monday. Stampeders defensive line coach Corey Mace and his family joined the fans in feeling a sense of tradition.
“I am here to continue the Stampeder tradition in our house,” said Mace.
“And this give me a chance to spend some time with our loyal Stampeder fans, who are out here in not the best of conditions. This is what they do for us so this awesome for us to come and hang with our fans.”
Mace played his first game as a member of the Stampeders during the Labour Day Classic in 2010 (which the Stampeders won 52-5).
This year, Mace said aside from the football, he will miss the annual fly over the most.
“It’s my favourite game of the regular season,” said Mace.
Since the Labour Day Classic became an annual event, the Stampeders lead the EE Football team with a record of 28-25-1, with Stampeders winning the last eight years straight.