May 30, 2024

Rider Nation Alt Jerseys: “This is a 10 out of 10”

Noted for blanketing opposing receivers, Rolan Milligan Jr. playfully covered his eyes instead while poised for one very special unveiling.

The veteran defensive back didn’t want to ruin the surprise as he approached his locker-room stall at Mosaic Stadium, having been advised that something new awaited him. But what would it be?

Suddenly, there it was — never-before-seen Saskatchewan Roughriders gear.

Early this week, Milligan Jr. was the first of a select group of players to eyeball the Rider Nation Alt Jerseys and assorted accessories. He was granted a preview leading up to Thursday night’s unveiling at the stadium’s Rider Store.

“Ooooh-wooo-wooo!” he exclaimed. “I like this … I like this … I like this!”

Next in line: C.J. Reavis.

“Crazy!” the Canadian Football League team’s strong-side linebacker said. “This is ridiculous!

“This is a 10 out of 10 — and I’m hard to please.”

Your turn, Trevor Harris.

“This is nice,” the Green and White’s starting quarterback said. “Look at the helmets, too.

“What colour is this?”

Obsidian Green.

That is the primary colour of the new Alt Jerseys, which are to be worn during two of the Roughriders’ nine regular-season home games in 2024.

The dark green hue embodies toughness — Saskatchewan Tough, if you will, to invoke the phrasing of former Roughriders Head Coach Reuben Berry.

The traditional Rider Green is incorporated into the bottom portion of the classic “S.”

A third shade, Emerald Green, is found in the top portion of the “S.”

“The reason they all work together is because they’re all shades of Rider Green,” said Mark Habicht, the team’s director of retail operations and licensing. “This is meant to extend Rider Green, as opposed to replacing it.”

The adherence to tradition is also exemplified by the Roughriders’ trademark wheat spike, which is located in the middle of the alternate logo. Included is a 13th kernel, a tribute to the figurative “13th Man” and the franchise’s fervent fan base.

The uniforms will be unveiled to the masses on July 19, when the Roughriders play host to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Green is the Colour Game.

This season, the players will also sport the alternate look on Oct. 26 against the Calgary Stampeders, during the Roughriders’ annual Fan Appreciation event.

“A lot of work has gone into making this happen,” President-CEO Craig Reynolds said. “A lot of people put in a lot of time.

“For Mark, it has been a passion project. He put his heart and soul into this.”

Although the look is brand-new to most members of Rider Nation, internal discussion about the alternate uniforms is hardly novel.

“Sometimes,” Reynolds reflected, “it takes a long time to get to something that’s pretty special.”

Five years, in this case, dating back to the early stages of Anthony Partipilo’s recently concluded tenure as the Chief Brand Officer.

“That was a good time to look at where the brand was and where we may or may not go with it,” Habicht said.

“We have a lot of brand equity with the current logo, but you always want to explore ways in which you can grow.

“An enormous amount of work went into this project. Nothing of this scale happens alone.”

Hence the early overtures to Bill Frederick, the founder and creative director of New York-based Fanbrandz.

Frederick’s top-tier clientele includes teams from throughout the sporting spectrum, including the National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and NASCAR.

The company’s ties to Saskatchewan are also evidenced by its design of the logos for the NHL’s 2019 Heritage Classic and the 2022 Grey Cup Festival logo. Both events culminated with games that were played on the turf, or ice, at Mosaic Stadium.

“Bill and his team spent a lot of time understanding Saskatchewan,” Habicht said. “He knew a lot about our history and our colours and was able to pull a lot of it together, which made their agency so good to work with.”

The Roughriders and Fanbrandz worked with various concepts before deciding upon the look that was unveiled to a wider audience during a special event that was held Thursday night at the Mosaic Stadium store.

“Pretty quickly, obsidian stood out as the star of the show,” Habicht said.

“Actually, there is very little of it in the (alternate) logo, compared to the uniforms, so it’s a neat way of putting it forward.”

It is all part of an exercise in forward-thinking.

“This is a way to expand the logo and do something that is fun and exciting,” Habicht said. “It’s something interesting you can do without changing your core brand.”

That philosophy was exercised in deference to the Roughriders’ rich tradition, which dates back to the franchise’s inception as the Regina Rugby Club in 1910.

Over that time, the Roughriders’ core colours have evolved from purple and “old gold” (1910), blue and white (1911), red and black (1912 to 1947) to a green-themed appearance (1948 to present).

Since then, various alternate looks have been unveiled.

In 2001, for example, the black jerseys were unveiled. That colour scheme was used periodically through the 2006 season.

The green foundation was maintained when the Roughriders donned throwback “signature” jerseys for a pair of games in 2009. The ensemble included arm bands that were patterned after the team’s appearance during the championship season of 1966.

On July 17, 2010, the Roughriders’ 100th anniversary was commemorated by a one-time-only renewal of the red and black garb. The throwback jerseys were worn by the Roughriders as they defeated Edmonton 24-20.

In 2014, a green-on-green concept was introduced. The traditional colour base (Kelly Green) was complemented by lime green.

A decade later, the Roughriders are again showcasing an alternate appearance.

“Basically, the question is, ‘How can we make green black?’ ” Habicht said. “We wanted to do something with a dark green that wasn’t black.
“Certainly, there comes a line when green becomes black. It’s a matter of finding that tipping point.”

And perhaps finding some new supporters along the way.

“Everyone has their own journey to becoming a Roughrider fan,” Habicht noted. “There are a million paths toward that allegiance.

“If this gets a 12-year-old kid to think, ‘This is cool,’ then it’s more than worth the investment.

“It’s about fan-building.”

Effective Friday morning, fans can purchase Rider Nation Alt Jerseys by visiting the team’s store or ordering online.

“It’s almost the end of one marathon and the beginning of another,” quipped Habicht, referencing the transition from conceptualizing to designing to marketing the jerseys.

“This is the end of one phase of the project.”

It is also the beginning of a countdown until the July 19 home game against Winnipeg.

“All I can say,” running back A.J. Ouellette said after his sneak peek, “is that I can’t wait.”