May 31, 2023

Rob Vanstone: Green and Write — inside the Roughriders’ Upper Deck signing session

Trevor Harris was celebrating a birthday and, suitably enough, there were cards, cards, cards. 

Football and hockey cards were in abundance! 

The cardboard celebration was a production of Upper Deck, which invited several players to a Wednesday afternoon signing session during Coors Light Riders Training Camp. 

Harris and an assortment of Saskatchewan Roughriders teammates were autographing labels that will be affixed to Upper Deck sports-memorabilia items — most conventionally, CFL cards. 

“It’s pretty cool,” receiver Jake Wieneke said while scribbling on some of his 390 labels. “I always give a bunch of cards to my family.” 

A few tables away, Harris — the Roughriders’ 37-years-young quarterback — was making headway on 13 sheets of labels. 

Once Harris was finished, he celebrated that completion by signing a non-collectible item — Upper Deck’s Declaration of Authenticity. 

As a youngster growing up in Menifee, Calif., Jamal Morrow was a card collector, but not in a sporting context. 

“I had a whole bunch of Pokemon cards,” he noted. 

Before too long, he hopes to add a pile of priceless Jamal Morrow cards to the personal collection. 

“This is all new to me, so I want to get a nice deck for myself,” he said. “When I’m fortunate enough to have kids, I’ll give the cards to them. 

“If they ever question whether I played football, I can say, ‘Look at this! Look at your old man!’ ” 

Brett Lauther’s father, Troy, is a sports-card aficionado who passed that passion along to his placekicking son. 

So, naturally, the Roughriders’ Lauther immersed himself in every facet of Wednesday’s session. 

He was particularly pleased that, as a complement to the labels that required signatures, Upper Deck brought along several boxes of already-produced NHL and CFL cards — collectibles that proved to be magnets for the Roughriders’ players. 

“Brett opened up a box of ’22-23 Artifacts Hockey and he pulled an Alex Ovechkin rookie card,” said Amanda Whitaker-Smith, Upper Deck’s associate marketing manager of sports cards. “That was pretty nice.” 

Ditto for the most robust reaction of Wednesday’s session. 

“Mason Fine pulled Brett’s card and freaked out,” said Whitaker-Smith, who is based in Carlsbad, Calif. 

“Brett thought that Mason had pulled his own card. Brett said, ‘Did you get yourself?’ Mason said, ‘No, I got you!’ ” 

Whitaker-Smith and her Upper Deck colleague, Taylor Beasley, visited Saskatoon as part of a CFL West Division whirlwind tour that is also to include sessions with the Edmonton Elks, Calgary Stampeders and B.C. Lions. 

“Upper Deck is wanting to get involved with the CFL and really promote it,” said Beasley, who resides in San Diego. “We want to expand their fan base and we want to have that personal relationship, which is why Amanda and I are out here. 

“Right now, we’re just signing all the labels to put on the cards so that they are more authentic. Everybody wants a card with a signature on it, rather than just the card itself. 

“For us, it’s just an opportunity to meet the guys and see how the team is run. It’s nice to get that personal, face-to-face relationship rather than just mailing (the labels) back and forth.” 

Nobody mailed it in, judging by the enthusiastic, engaged responses of everybody who was involved in Wednesday’s signing spree — an event that was documented by Whitaker-Smith for eventual dissemination via Upper Deck’s social-media platforms. 

“Jake Wieneke really got into opening the packs of cards,” she noted. “He was pocketing the cards of all his friends and all the people he knew and he was so excited to see their cards. 

“It’s fun to see the reactions of the athletes themselves, because you get to see all the hard work that goes into putting these together. 

“We get to see a lot from the collectors and their reactions and what they post online, but it’s totally different getting to see all the athletes’ reactions. It’s just a more unique perspective.” 


Offensive play of the day: A deep throw from Harris to Derel Walker down the left sideline. Harris threw a breathtakingly beautiful ball and hit the three-time 1,000-yard receiver in stride. 

Defensive play of the day: A leaping, one-handed interception by Deontai Williams. 

Special teams play of the day: Adam Korsak’s soaring, spiralling punt, which travelled 50-plus yards. The (unofficial) hang time: 4.13 seconds. 

Also of note during Wednesday’s workout at the University of Saskatchewan’s Griffiths Stadium: 

  • Fine and Isaiah McKoy connected for three completions, one of which produced a touchdown.
  • Harris found Wieneke in the right corner of the end zone for six points. (It was the runner-up for the coveted, albeit highly subjective, offensive-play-of-the-day award. The columnist/adjudicator is too cheap and shallow to award prizes, so recipients of the aforementioned awards will have to settle for profuse congratulations.)
  • Randy Satterfield made a leaping end-zone catch.
  •  One near-touchdown pass was thwarted due to tight coverage by rookie safety Jaxon Ford.

•  The punters’ hang times, in case you are curious, are clocked and calculated by yours truly and the Roughriders’ Communications Co-ordinator, Thomas Judek. In the almost-certain event of a discrepancy, an average of the two times is deemed to be the number. That said, our iPhone stopwatches were perfectly synched on one punt during Wednesday’s practice. After several instances of being a mere two-100ths of a second apart since main camp began on May 14, we finally achieved unanimity on a punt that was mutually clocked at 3.70 seconds. That was all the time it took for our lives to be complete. 

  •  Head Coach Craig Dickenson on the difference between the training camps of 2022 and 2023: “I think we’re getting along better. I haven’t had to break up a lot of fights this year — not that I break them up, anyway. I say to somebody else, ‘Go break that up.’ I learned my lesson.”
  • Further to the previous item: “I think there’s a little more maturity on this team than there was with last year’s team. I think we’re doing a better job of working together as a staff to make sure we get what we want when we’re playing together.”
  • Special guests at Wednesday’s workout: Terri Harris-Strunk (a Saskatoon-based member of the community-owned Roughriders’ Board of Directors since June 23, 2016), Kent Paul (the team’s Chief Financial Officer since 2015) and Owen Paul (a fine son of the CFO and an inheritor of the CFO’s fine sense of humour).
  • The final on-field session of training camp is scheduled for Thursday at 10 a.m., when a 45-minute walk-through is to commence. The Roughriders will then fly to Winnipeg for Friday’s pre-season finale against the Blue Bombers. Final cuts are to be made over the weekend.
  • Saskatchewan’s regular-season opener is scheduled for June 11 in Edmonton. Next week’s first practice session is slated for Wednesday at Mosaic Stadium.