When it comes to Labour Day weekend in the CFL, Kevin Glenn has seen it all.
The retired quarterback, who has the unique distinction of having been a member of all nine active teams, suited up in all three traditional Labour Day games during his 18-year career (2000-18). He played on both sides in the Saskatchewan Roughriders-Winnipeg Blue Bombers showdown in Regina and then led the Hamilton Tiger-Cats against the visiting Toronto Argonauts and the Calgary Stampeders at home versus Edmonton.
Many have said the CFL season doesn’t really get going until this long weekend. While Glenn doesn’t go that far, he quickly discovered the annual rivalry games are more than just another week on the schedule.
“I think they’re all special in their own little way just because of the nature of the event,” said Glenn, now the director of community engagement and diversity and a football coach at Catholic Central High School in his hometown of Detroit.
“Everyone gets the schedule at the beginning of the year and it doesn’t matter if you’re a football fan or not, everyone circles that date on the calendar if you’re from one of those towns. It’s got that kind of significance and that kind of draw to it and that’s what I think makes it so special.”
Glenn, 43, discussed the uniqueness of each event for Sportsnet.
Glenn started his CFL career in 2001 with the Roughriders and has vivid memories of his first Labour Day weekend game, traditionally played on the Sunday.
He says if a fan could pick only one Labour Day game to attend, the Prairie bout should be it.
“The excitement that goes behind it, words can’t explain it,” Glenn said. “You have to experience it. Everything is going on. In Saskatchewan, (for) home games we would stay in a hotel night before a game. I can remember Labour Day, Winnipeg fans are literally running up and down the hallways, banging doors, screaming and it’s 1 a.m. in the morning. It was a frenzy. At that point, I think the team said we’re going to stop staying in a hotel for the Labour Day game.”
Glenn ended up in Winnipeg in 2004 (he was first traded to Toronto and then the Bombers) – and his first season with the Roughriders’ rival featured a new tradition.
The Banjo Bowl, a rematch between the teams the following weekend in Winnipeg, came to fruition in 2004 after former Blue Bombers kicker Troy Westwood made some infamous comments poking fun at Roughriders fans. Glenn started the first five Banjo Bowls for the Bombers.
“It just added more fuel to the rivalry, which I think was great,” Glenn said. “It created another storyline. It may not have necessarily been the most politically correct thing to say but they turned it into something positive to create a bigger buzz around the rivalry and the two provinces and the history of the two organizations.”
Both Winnipeg-Saskatchewan games this year already are sellouts.
“The competitiveness and adrenaline that flows through your body when you’re playing in that (Saskatchewan) stadium in front of those fans, it’s like no other,” said Glenn, who returned to the Roughriders in 2017. “I always say every player should get the opportunity to play in front of those type of crowds like on Labour Day. It’s a remarkable feeling as a professional athlete to go play in those type of games. I’ve been inside Michigan Stadium when there’s 111,000. That’s what it feels like playing in Saskatchewan.”
Played most years since 1948, the QEW showdown takes place in a classic Canadian setting – Tim Hortons Field sits in the same residential neighbourhood as old Ivor Wynne Stadium. In the distance, you can see the steel factories. On game days, the area is a sea of black and gold. It’s awesome how the whole scene just screams Hamilton.
“It’s smack dab in the middle of a community of houses,” said Glenn, who signed with the Ticats in 2009. “If you’re claustrophobic, you’d be afraid to come to that game because there were so many people walking up and down the street. So much going on, fans in different colours. At times, you couldn’t tell if you were in Hamilton or Toronto because of the number of fans that would drive up the QEW to get to the game. That one was probably the most intense one. Very fiery on the field and with fans walking up and down the street. They would say things and you would be like ‘are we going to play football or are we going down the alley to fight?’
This one can get nasty (though 99 per cent of fans are perfectly fine). A Tiger-Cat fan was convicted of biting off a part of an Argos fan’s ear after the 2002 game. Former Argos coach Jim Barker and linebacker Mike O’Shea, now Winnipeg’s coach, recalled getting hit by batteries thrown by fans in an interview with longtime Hamilton Spectator columnist Steve Milton. It’s rare for much time to go by before you hear an ‘Argos suck’ chant in the stands.
(Two personal memories as a kid from Toronto. In 1991, I can remember the Ticat mascot tearing the shreds out of an Argos doll to the delight of the crowd as the previously winless home squad shocked the eventual Grey Cup champs — then a glamour franchise with Rocket Ismail and Pinball Clemons as stars and Wayne Gretzky, John Candy and Bruce McNall as owners . And then in 1996, after busing to the game in Hamilton from downtown Toronto and cheering for the Doug Flutie-led Argos with a friend as a 16-year-old, I recall one Ticat fan telling me I was lucky I was young. If I was a bit older, he said, the discussion during a rare Argos victory on Labour Day wouldn’t have been as pleasant – in slightly less family-friendly words).
“It’s not called Steeltown for nothing,” Glenn said. “They’re a hard-nosed community and that’s their football team. It reminds me a lot of where I’m from — Detroit. Detroit fans are die-hard. It’s great when they’re winning but even when the season is not going the way they want it to go, they’re still down to fight for the team. You can’t say anything bad about their team. Hamilton fans are exactly the same.”
The Ticats have won the past seven Labour Day games against Toronto.
The Battle of Alberta always is anticipated in hockey and football.
Like Saskatchewan-Winnipeg, the Elks and Stamps traditionally meet again the following weekend in Edmonton — and many years it has been on the Friday night, causing a rapid turnaround (it falls on Saturday this year).
“I remember going through practices in Calgary, we were running plays in the first week that we were going to run in the second game just because of the shortness of time (between games) and we might not have a chance to practise at full speed (after Game 1),” said Glenn, who was traded to Calgary by the Tiger-Cats in 2012. “After that first game, those next two days are a glorified walkthrough.”
Glenn said the quick back-to-back is what stands out for him about the Alberta clash.
“That (Labour Day game) was a little bit more laid-back (than the others). But you got that one kind of right afterward for bragging rights. Whoever wins labelled themselves as the best of Alberta. It still had a rich tradition because of the (short) amount of time for that stretch of games.”