Edmonton’s dedicated football fans braved long lines and a short-lived downpour of rain with smiles on their faces Saturday evening hours before of the first home game of the Edmonton Elks.
Waiting 651 days for football will do that to you.
At the first major event at Commonwealth Stadium in more than a year-and-a-half due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the parking lot was full of barbecues and tailgaters snacking on burgers, dancing to drumming and waving to friends who are now able to gather together to support their team.
“We’re still smiling even though everything is getting wet,” long-time fan Jerry Haynes joked before breaking out into the chorus of “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie as kids jumped in the puddles.
He didn’t have to wait for the sun to come out tomorrow. The skies were clear in time for kickoff.
The crowd was a sea of green wearing a blend of old and new team logos. On June 1, the team unveiled its new Edmonton Elks name and branding a year after owners announced they would no longer use the former name that was decried for being racist and insulting to Canada’s Inuit.
Evan Pollard, who grew up watching the team, bought a plastic set of antlers on Amazon and painted them the team colours of green and gold. On Saturday he wore them on top of a new Elks baseball cap.
“We’re the Elks now and I’m going to show my support for them,” he said.
“I’ll admit I was a little disappointed to start with, it’s been so many years cheering for the old name. But I’m glad they came up with the Elks, that was one of the names that was announced that I really liked.”
Pollard’s antlers were not the only ones in the crowd. Ron Hall’s were a softer variety sewn into a furry toque. Hall’s hat is designed and sold by his son Joshua, who is Cree and living in Peace River.
“My grandkids and him were sitting at home on the couch watching news about the name change … He thought about the (Green Bay Packers fans) the Melonheads and he got the idea,” he said.
Hall said it feels “fantastic” to be able to be vaccinated and at a public event.
“The first game as the Elks, to be here, it’s fantastic. I wish I could be here for every game.”
On the Thursday before the game, Commonwealth Stadium staff said that more than 25,000 tickets had been sold.