Yee-hah! Saddle up for Cup party

November 19, 1995|By KEN ROSENTHAL

REGINA, Saskatchewan -- Maybe the horse was hung over.

Heck, everyone else in town was.

The horse was supposed to waltz through the lobby of the Sands Hotel and Resort after yesterday's Grey Cup parade.

Riding a horse into a hotel?

It's a Calgary tradition when the Stampeders reach the Cup final.

The Regina Inn was blessed by such a happening Friday, and the horse got so frightened, it . . . well, some things are better left unsaid.

Put it this way: For the sake of the Inner Harbor hotels, maybe it's best if the Grey Cup doesn't come to Baltimore in 1997.

But back to the Regina Inn.

"The horse came up to my desk and sneezed," front desk clerk Jason Kelln said. "They wanted to check him in, but I said no, because we were already full."

The front page of yesterday's Regina Leader-Post featured a picture of the horse strolling past the front desk, with Stampeders defensive end Stu Laird turning his head in wonder.

The drive from Calgary to Regina lasts eight hours. It might as well be eight minutes. Thousands of Stampeders fans made the trip, hungry for victory, thirsty for beer.

Grey Cup Week is one of the great parties in sports. And it's especially wild when Calgary qualifies, the host city goes on holiday, and the horses turn the hotels into stables.

The tradition started in 1948. Stampeders fans boarded a train and brought their customs to cosmopolitan Toronto. Square dances. Pancake breakfasts. And their wacky horses.

As legend has it, a brazen Stamps fan rode his horse through the lobby of the posh Royal York Hotel. And the Grey Cup, at least when Calgary was a participant, was never the same.

Fans from all CFL cities now gather for the Cup, but the atmosphere was especially charged this week. When the Stamps reach the Cup final, it's like the Dallas Cowboys making the Super Bowl.

Except these are real cowboys.

*

Peter Von Gradulewski is standing in the Regina Inn lobby, wearing a red Stampeders jersey, a Stamps jacket, approximately 15 buttons and a Stamps cowboy hat.

His bow tie features a white pony and flashing lights. He's holding a Stamps flag, with four red-and-white balloons attached.

"Why be in a parade if you're not going to lead it?" he asks.

He and his wife, Cindy, live in Cranbrook, a town 4 1/2 hours from Calgary. But, of course, they attend every Stamps' home game.

They made it to Regina in just under 12 hours, delayed by a flooded highway. Seems the highway is cut into the side of a mountain. A frozen stream melted and overflowed, and that was that.

"I followed a logging truck through a back road," Von Gradulewski says. "It's the Grey Cup. I've been coming since 1988. I wasn't going to let no washed-out highway stop me."

*

Four Stamps fans enter a cab, shouting "Yee-hah!"

They're headed to the hoedown.

Super Bowl parties are held in corporate tents or fancy ballrooms. The hoedown takes place in a massive exhibition hall, with red-and-white balloons hanging from the ceiling.

The party will last from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Admission is $10.

The only sign of a corporate sponsor is a 20-foot-high inflatable Molson can, tucked away in a corner. The floor is concrete, but suitable for dancing.

The partygoers, many in Stamps regalia, sit at wooden tables with folding chairs, or on bleachers set up against the back wall.

"There'll be 3,000 people here tonight, but no fights," says Dave Shaw, clutching a huge Stampeders flag. "I'll guarantee you, no fights."

There is beer. There is dancing. There is more beer.

But no fights.

Cowboy hats are everywhere. The entertainment includes country music bands, the Regina Salsations dance troupe and a local drum corps, as well as the Saskatchewan Roughriders cheerleaders.

"Very Calgary Stampede-ish," a Toronto resident sniffs, referring the 10-day celebration of western life that takes place in Calgary every July.

*

Ah, but Grant Painter is here.

Actually, he's up there, on the table, wearing a red Stampeders jersey and white uniform pants, leading a "Go Stamps Go" cheer.

Painter is accustomed to heights. He's the guy who climbed a 40-foot scaffold to live in a coal miner's tent from last Christmas to New Year's Eve.

Not that Stallions fans should get any ideas, but it was Painter's way of showing his support for the Save the Stamps' ticket drive.

His tent sat high above Ranchman's, Calgary's leading honky-tonk.

"There was a storm up there. I almost blew down. It was brutal," Painter said.

Yes, but the Stamps sold 6,000 season tickets that final week, reaching their target of 16,000.

Painter, in search of a new challenge, says he recently set the world lawn-mowing record, cutting his way from Edmonton and Calgary.

What will he think of next?

*

Yvonne Ormerod is here.

There she is, the mother of two teen-agers, standing just off the dance floor, holding a large banner that says "Red Deer Loves the Stampeders."

Red Deer?

Ormerod smiles, explaining it's halfway between Edmonton and Calgary, a 90-minute drive from each.

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