OTTAWA — During the CFL regular season, Conrad Brock and Mike Hassel are bitter rivals.
Brock, a Saskatchewan native who lives in New Brunswick, bleeds Roughrider green. His long-time friend Hassel carries a small plastic horse wherever he goes in honour of his beloved Calgary Stampeders.
At Sunday’s Grey Cup, however, they will be on the same side.
With Brock’s Roughriders not in the big game, he’ll support his friend’s club when they face off against the Toronto Argonauts in the CFL showcase.
“I think it’s a bit of a love-hate relationship,” Brock said of his friendship with Hassel.
The two pals take verbal jabs at each other when it’s game time, but tone down the taunts when the footballs are put away, said Brock’s wife Sally, a convert to CFL fandom after she met her husband in Moncton.
“Part of the friendship is being able to trash talk each other’s team during the season and then (other times) they still do that, but it’s good natured,” she said.
While the Brocks are favouring Calgary, the same can’t be said of another Roughriders fan.
Moose Jaw’s Elaine Johnson arrived in Ottawa on Thursday, just in time to celebrate her 70th birthday. And since she can’t see her beloved Roughriders play, she’ll cheer for the Argonauts instead.
“I was hoping that Saskatchewan was in it, but now I’m a Toronto fan all of a sudden,” said Johnson, who laughed as her young grandson David piped in to predict a Calgary win.
“Once it comes to Grey Cup time, it’s just a great opportunity to meet fans from all across the country, really,” she said as members of a Roughriders pep band pursed their lips to trumpets and other cold brass instruments outside Ottawa’s TD Place Stadium.
Some Calgary fans, including Hassel, see this year’s championship as a rematch of the 2012 finale that saw Toronto defeat Calgary 35-22.
“It is payback time,” said Hassel, who was there five years ago and at last year’s championship, where Calgary was defeated by the Ottawa Redblacks.
“They know better now,” he said of this year’s Stampeders. “They’ve learned their lessons twice. Third time’s the charm.”
The Grey Cup is just one of many big ticket events Ottawa is hosting this year, including celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation and the NHL’s 100th anniversary. But that doesn’t mean football has taken a back seat.
“It’s a big deal for us from a celebratory point of view, but also from a tourism and economic development point of view,” said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson.
“This is big dollars that are coming into the local economy.”
Since the arrival of the trophy Tuesday, there have been a number of activities leading up to game day, including a four-day-long street party at the city’s Lansdowne Park and concerts until Sunday.
Canadian pop-country star Shania Twain will perform at halftime Sunday and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with his family, is expected to be among the VIPs in attendance.
It will be the first Grey Cup for Julie Payette since being sworn in as governor general. She’ll kick off the game with the traditional coin toss.
The weather forecast for game day calls for a few flurries and temperatures reaching -2 C.
Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press