New book focuses on Roughrider history

If you have a Saskatchewan Roughrider fan on your Christmas list a new book from Regina journalist Rob Vanstone might be just perfect stocking stuffer.

The book; 100 Things Roughrider Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, is due to hit shelves this week.

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Vanstone said the book was one the publisher came to him to do.

“The publisher, Triumph Books (from Chicago), approached me in 2018. They’ve done numerous “100 Things …” books on various sports teams in North America (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB),” he said.

“They wanted to do a CFL book and decided to begin with the Roughriders, considering their history and their following.

“Someone (perhaps my mother) recommended me to them and, when they contacted me, it was an easy sell.”

Writing about the Roughriders is not new for Vanstone.

As a long-time journalist with the Leader-Post in Regina, Vanstone has covered the team for years, although he didn’t start on the ‘Rider beat.

“I’ve spent my entire full-time working career at the Leader-Post. I was hired full-time in 1987, during my second consecutive summer job in the L-P’s sports department,” he related. “That summer job has lasted for 30-plus years. 

“I covered junior hockey, primarily, from 1987 to 1996. 

“I was named the sports columnist in 1996, at which point I began writing about the Roughriders, and added the title of sports editor in 2001.”

The role has stuck.

“Since then, I haven’t added any titles, just chins,” he joked.

And that long time relationship with the Roughriders has led to writing books related to the team.

“I am now at 3.2 books,” said Vanstone. 

He has written books on the Grey Cup championship teams of 1966 (‘West Riders Best’) and 1989 (‘The Greatest Grey Cup Ever’) and also contributed to a 100th-anniversary history book.

The latest book was one Vanstone said he saw value in writing.

“I find the Roughriders’ rich, eventful history to be so compelling,” he said. “I traced quite a bit of it in the two earlier books. The 1966 book, for example, has a wingspan that extends from 1951 to 2008.

“The 1989 book starts in 1976, with the Tony Gabriel catch.”

This latest effort opened the door to the club’s entire history.

“I welcomed the opportunity to immerse myself in 100-plus years of the team’s history, dating back to its inception in 1910 as the Regina Rugby Club, and to learn more about the team over the course of my research,” said Vanstone. 

“I’ve spent most of my life as an ardent follower of the Roughriders, (he was born, raised and lived all but a few months in Regina), and the opportunity to tackle this project was irresistible. 

“I said “yes” within 10 minutes, and the response would have been even quicker if I didn’t ensure that the book received the blessing of my wife, Chryssoula.

“It was a lot of work, consuming countless hours, but I found it appealing — even addictive — because it was also a lot of fun.”

It helped Vanstone was given pretty much free rein in regards to content.

“The publisher gave me carte blanche to choose the topics, so how could I possibly say no?” he asked.

“I was blessed to be able to craft a Roughriders history book, in a unique form, as I wished. That was an absolute joy.

“Within hours of completing the short-lived negotiation process, I had already made a list of 150-some topics. 

“I ultimately whittled it down to 100, with 20 sidebars, and was allowed to have all sorts of fun along the way. 

“I was able to celebrate great moments, explain some of the challenges the franchise has faced, and wallow in as much trivia as I wanted. It was a dream, to be honest. There was a set format, but all sorts of latitude, and any writer would welcome and embrace that.”

With so much history to cover the research could have bogged down, but Vanstone said that never seemed to be the case.

“It wasn’t a protracted process,” he said. “I began interviewing/writing in the spring of 2018. The manuscript was due, and submitted, Feb. 1.

“There were a few curveballs due to unanticipated events. The Chris Jones chapter, for example, had to be revised when he abruptly left for the Cleveland Browns in January.

“Shortly thereafter, chapters on head coach Craig Dickenson and general manager Jeremy O’Day were born.

“Just when I thought I had everything locked down, the Riders signed Jon Ryan in the spring, so the publisher was kind enough to accommodate that very late addition.”

It helped the book was somewhat freeform in in nature.

“Because the story wasn’t being told chronologically, nor was it linear, there were so many entry points,” said Vanstone. “When writing about players, I tried to make the chapter number correspond with the uniform number. The chapter on Ray Elgaard was one of the first I wrote — and that was Chapter 81!”

And, Vanstone went into the process with a plan.

“Early on, I set a goal of writing at least a chapter per day, in addition to doing about 40 original interviews for the book,” he said. “I was also able to use the research I had done for earlier Riders books, and information I had compiled over 20-plus years of writing about the team.

“Having written about the team as much as I have, I pretty much knew where to find what I needed, and that was beneficial.”

So the book flowed along about as well as could be expected.

“I’d never refer to writing as “easy,” but projects of this description and dimension are always a labour of love,” said Vanstone. “On many a day, I’d plunk myself on a comfy couch at a coffee emporium, put on my headphones, listen to some jazz (Oscar Peterson!), and dive into a writing session.

“Before I knew it, two or three hours — and two or three iced cappuccinos — were gone.

“Then, one night, it hit me: “I’m almost done!” Then Chris Jones resigned and, well …”

But, for a long-time ‘Rider follower were there surprises found in doing the research?

“I was surprised by how much I did not know about the early years,” offered Vanstone. “I had heard and read so many stories about the Roughriders’ formation, but had settled into a comfort zone that pretty much encompassed anything beyond Glenn Dobbs’ arrival in 1951.

“Being able to rewind to 1910 was very rewarding and illuminating.

“For example, the Roughriders’ original home was Dominion Park, near the intersection of Broad Street and Seventh Avenue. There are monuments alongside the sidewalk on Broad Street, paying tribute to the team and its original locale.

“How many times had I driven down Broad Street without noticing the monuments? How many times had I visited Value Village without the site’s historical significance occurring to me?

“And, as much as I had read about the early years, it never really sunk in that the first game was not played in Regina, but instead in Moose Jaw against the Tigers.”

In the end, Vanstone said there was really more history to tell than 100 things allowed, creating the greatest challenge to the project.

“The most challenging aspect was trying to keep the list to 100 — OK, 120, with sidebars incorporated,” he said. “The list of possible topics is infinite. I would have said the same thing if the list had consisted of 200 or 300.

“Once I settled on the final list, with some late revisions, it was a race against time to get it done, simply because I didn’t want to neglect what I have to do each day at the Leader-Post. I wanted to do my employer justice while ensuring that the book become something of which I was proud. That is why I sought my wife’s approval! She joined me at many a coffee house, believe me.”

In the end, which of the 100 stick as most interesting in the mind of the writer?

“I loved the material from the early years, because so much of it was eye-opening,” said Vanstone. “It was a new area of study for me and I couldn’t get enough of it.

“It even provided the impetus for an historical video we did at the Leader-Post. I did a Riders history tour in which we visited the Dominion Park site, and the site of the first game in Moose Jaw. That game was played near where the Moose Jaw Public Library is now located.

“Once I dove into the early years, I was hooked. I hope that translates into some readable chapters about the events of that era.”

 As for a book highlight, Vanstone was quick to joke.

“The fact that my picture isn’t in it. That should help with sales! …,” he quipped.

Then turning back to seriousness, Vanstone said finding the fitting finale for the book was difficult.

“I had a tough time deciding what to do with Chapter 100,” he said. “I needed an exclamation point at the end … but what?

“Then it hit me: How about picking the best player to wear all 100 numbers, from 00 to 99. 

“I had so much fun doing that list, and revising it, and revising it some more. Some of them were easy, because Nos. 23, 34, etc., were obvious, and some of them required some research (No. 46) and contemplation. 

“I had never tried anything like that before and I really enjoyed it.”

Like most writers Vanstone said he is never completely satisfied with what he creates, but there is satisfaction with ‘100 Things ...’

“As a writer, and someone who is intensely self-critical, I’ll never say that I’m satisfied with anything,” he said. “But I will say that I am very pleased with it. 

“I wish that time had allowed for the inclusion of a Cody Fajardo chapter, for example, but deadlines did not make that possible.

“Since the book was published, I’ve asked myself a few times: ‘Did I miss anything?’

“So far, I haven’t had that forehead-slapping moment when it occurs to me that there is a major omission. Anything that I felt was important, over more than 100 years, was included.”

It helped the publisher was easy to work with.

“Working with Triumph Books was an absolute joy,” said Vanstone. “I could not be happier about the collaboration and I hope that the finished product is what the publisher wanted and deserves.”

Now he hopes that the diehard fans like the book too.

“Roughriders fans, given their passion for the team, also deserve an all-encompassing look at the team to be something that is accurate and of considerable interest,” said Vanstone. “I hope that I have done them justice as well.

“And now, having reflected upon this, I really feel like an iced cappuccino!”

 

 

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