Bring on the Banjo Bowl’s verbal bombs and boastful banter

Hot Take. Noun. A piece of commentary, typically produced quickly in response to a recent event, whose primary purpose is to attract attention.

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Hot Take. Noun. A piece of commentary, typically produced quickly in response to a recent event, whose primary purpose is to attract attention.

Welcome to the Banjo Bowl, an annual event in Winnipeg born out of a scorching verbal bomb dropped by former Blue Bombers kicker Troy Westwood. “Lefty” found himself right at the heart of a firestorm when he famously referred to Saskatchewan Roughriders fans as a “bunch of banjo-pickin’ inbreds” prior to the 2003 Labour Day Classic in Regina between the Prairie rivals.

It got tongues wagging, especially those of us in the media who love a good soundbite. Fingers pointing as fan bases declared (mostly friendly) war. And, most importantly, cash registers ringing. A brilliant marketing idea took flight, and the Blue and Gold have been laughing all the way to the bank ever since.

LIAM RICHARDS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill gets his hands on Saskatchewan Roughriders running back Frankie Hickson on Sunday.

Saturday’s clash at IG Field (4 p.m.) will be the 18th instalment, with the hosts holding an all-time 10-7 record. As we get ready to renew hostilities, let’s crank the temperature up a few degrees and serve up a trio of piping hot takes that should get the competitive juices flowing even more.

*Goodbye, and good riddance, to Garrett Marino: The controversial Saskatchewan defensive lineman was given his walking papers Tuesday. I’m sure he felt blindsided by the decision. Probably didn’t see it coming. Which is fitting, since that’s how numerous opponents have felt this season as the loose cannon ran wild delivering cheap shots galore.

Marino’s list of victims was growing longer with each passing week. He already ended the season of Jeremiah Masoli with a dirty low hit, adding racial insult to injury when he made comments about the Ottawa quarterback’s Samoan heritage. He was slapped with a four-game ban, which also took into account an illegal block against another Redblacks player in the same contest.

The second-year American product clearly did not learn his lesson, as proven by his unnecessary roughness against a B.C. opponent that earned him a fine upon his return. Last week, Marino had Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros in the crosshairs, levelling him with a late hit. Given he was also ejected last season during a Saskatchewan-Winnipeg game, I can only imagine what he might have done for an encore Saturday. He can’t seem to help himself, and he was practically revelling in it through his Twitter posts.

KAYLE NEIS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Last week, Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive lineman Garrett Marino had Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros in the crosshairs, levelling him with a late hit.

Fortunately, Collaros and company can sleep a bit easier knowing this menace to football society has been rightfully banished. Had that not occurred, I would have been here suggesting the Bombers consider resting their offensive leader for the sake of his long-term health.

It sounds like the CFL itself might have forced the move, given that commissioner Randy Ambrosie sent a memo across the league Wednesday reminding teams he can refuse to register any player contract for any reason he deems valid. As TSN’s Dave Naylor reported, presumably that was directed specifically at Marino in the interest of player safety. Which brings me to my next point…

*The inmates are running the Roughriders asylum: How else to explain the (mis)handling of Marino, who was giving not only the storied franchise but also the entire league a black eye. They repeatedly defended the indefensible and almost seemed to relish being Public Enemy No. 1.

But wait. There’s more.

Just look at last week’s game, in which receiver Duke Williams was given a costly objectionable conduct penalty — DESPITE NOT EVEN BEING DRESSED FOR THE GAME. Williams, standing on the sidelines in street clothes owing to injury, decided to mix it up after the whistle. It was selfish. It was stupid. It cost his club a chance at a field goal in a game they ultimately lost by two points. And it was one of 12 penalties the Riders took, costing them 99 yards. (The other 11, thankfully, were by players actually IN the lineup).

Actual headline in Wednesday’s Regina Leader-Post: “Saskatchewan Roughriders are a disciplinary disaster.” Ouch.

Craig Dickenson seems like a nice enough guy, but the Saskatchewan head coach has lost control. Contrast that with the calm, cool and collected way Bombers bench boss Mike O’Shea and his crew conduct themselves, and no wonder these two teams are in very different places right now. One is 11-1 and the runaway favourite to capture a third straight Grey Cup. The other is limping down the stretch at 6-6 and should be thankful the East is so weak and a crossover playoff system exists. Speaking of which…

*Saskatchewan has been all bark, but no bite, lately: You have to go back to Oct. 5, 2019 to find the last time the Roughriders came out on top in a head-to-head meeting. It’s been all Blue Bombers ever since, with five straight victories by a combined score of 117-65 including the 2019 West Division Final (20-13), the 2021 Labour Day Classic (23-8), the 2021 Banjo Bowl (33-9), the 2021 West Division Final (21-17) and the 2022 Labour Day Classic (20-18). Overall, Winnipeg has taken eight of the past 10 games.

LIAM RICHARDS / THE CANADIAN PRESS Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive lineman Charleston Hughes (39) fails to evade the tackle from a Winnipeg Blue Bombers player during CFL football action in Regina.

As a friend of mine who was at the game last weekend put it, “I actually like it better when Saskatchewan fans are more confident. It leads to more friendly bantering. They were much more humble this year.”

Yes, it’s apparently hit a point where some Winnipeg supporters are starting to feel kind of sorry for the banjo pickers. Tough times, indeed.

At least there’s still social media to remind us some bad blood clearly exists, with plenty of keyboard warriors going back and forth this week. Even Bob Irving — the incomparable former voice of the Bombers and one of the nicest humans on the planet — got into the act, offering this cheeky online reply to a Saskatchewan fan who suggested “the constant fear, loathing and jealousy out of Manitoba leads me to believe you guys are afraid that Riders have the better team.”

To which Knuckles replied: “11-1. 6-6.” Zing. Now that’s more like it!

I could go on, but at this point it’s starting to feel like piling on. That may be Marino’s style, but it’s not mine. Enjoy the game, folks. And play nice. Especially you goons in green.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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