Make no mistake: the Saskatchewan Rough Riders' football culture pales in comparison to Buckeye fever here in Columbus, but for 20-year-old Ryan Murray, there are a lot of similarities between his hometown and his new home.
The best comparison for the Rough Riders might be the Green Bay Packers: they're the second-smallest professional sports market on the continent (behind only, surprise, Green Bay), they are a publicly-owned team and their following is passionate and spread throughout Canada. Whether you're on the West Coast or vacationing in the Maritimes, chances are you'll see Rider green on a CFL game day.
A game day in Regina, Sask. at historic Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field is quite the experience. Much like one would experience in Columbus, there's tailgating, barbecues, face paint and a palpable energy.
"There's nothing like, it really," Murray said of the Rough Rider game day experience. "It's a cultural thing in Saskatchewan and it's a big part of life there."
How does this relate to the Buckeyes and Columbus? Murray attended his first Ohio State football game over the weekend, taking in the Buckeyes' 31-24 win over Wisconsin at Ohio Stadium and taking part in one of college football's greatest traditions - and it reminded him a lot of home.
Walking down Lane Ave. and seeing the scarlet and grey at every turn was reminiscent of those ever-present Riders jerseys in Regina, Murray said, and he couldn't help but notice that Buckeye football culture is, in many ways, like Rider Nation (even if it's on a slightly smaller scale).
Though he did notice one thing missing from Ohio State football that's prevalent in Saskatchewan: watermelons.
"People put watermelons on their heads for Rider games," Murray said. "That's kind of a thing."
And yes, it's absolutely a thing. Known for outlandish costumes on game days, Rider fans have been wearing cored watermelons as helmets for years. It's become part of the Rider culture, another colorful (and occasionally messy) way for fans to show team spirit.
While there weren't any watermelon helmets to be found in the 'Shoe on Saturday, Murray knew right away that his first Ohio State football experience was going to be bigger than anything he could have expected. In a stadium packed with over 105,000 people and "O-H-I-O" reverberating throughout, it was hard not to get caught up in it.
"Really, it was incredible," Murray said. "I've never seen or been around an atmosphere like that, on that level. The chants, the people, everything was just so intense and so cool. It's really similar, the more I think about it. Anywhere you walk in Saskatchewan, there are big Rider fans all over the place. The logo is on trucks, buildings, flags in people's yards...it's crazy. There are barbecues and parties and it's all about the Riders.
"You know this is a college town, but college towns back home are way different. In Saskatchewan and really in Canada, you go to university to go to school and that's pretty much it. Here, you're part of a family and everyone seems so much more connected. The school spirit is wild and I think that's really cool."