They call him royalty.
If you ever need to gauge just how much George Reed means to the province of Saskatchewan and the army of fans that follow the Saskatchewan Roughriders across the country, think about how often you’ve read or heard the word ‘royalty’ attached to his name.
Reed, a fullback for the Riders from 1963 to 1975, is one of a select few former players to have this title bestowed upon him. When you’re literally the driving force behind bringing the most passionate fan base in the league its first-ever Grey Cup, back in 1966, your name is forever held in the highest regard in Saskatchewan.
Royalty is set aside for the cream of the Riders crop. The team has won four Grey Cups in its 107-year existence. Reed’s quarterback in those years, Ron Lancaster is royalty. Kent Austin, Kerry Joseph, Gene Makowsky and Darian Durant are all there, too. But Reed, for reasons both on and off the field, might rule this kingdom of watermelon-wearing, green-on-green excellence.
“I think I have a great relationship with Saskatchewan; not only Regina, but all of Saskatchewan,” Reed says over the phone from Regina. Now 77, he’s recovering well after a 4.5-month stay in the hospital, due to complications from back surgery.
“I’ve been in a lot of communities in Saskatchewan over the years and it means a lot to me to have the relationship that we do.”
His selection to be the name on the back of the Riders’ t-shirts for their July 1 stadium-unveiling game against Winnipeg is a no-brainer.
“It makes me feel good. Any time that somebody recognizes you for the things that maybe you have done not only on the football field but off the football field, those are the things you remember,” he says.
It took him a few years to settle into Regina, but he eventually made it his full-time home as a player. In doing that, he tried to make as much of an impact off the field as he did on it, through volunteering and leading in the community.
In March, the Regina Leader-Post’s Rob Vanstone recalled that he once asked Reed how he managed to be involved with 47 different charities and organizations.
“If you want something done, ask a busy person,” Reed told the columnist, laughing.
“You could ask me about a certain game and I might not be able to tell you about it but I can tell you just about everything I’ve been involved in off the football field,” he says. “It makes you feel good and (being recognized for it) is one of those things that you can’t really explain. It’s one of those things that happen and I’m very grateful for it.”
Thirty-three years after his retirement and eight years after moving back to Regina after a career with Molson breweries took him to Calgary, these types of recognitions still roll in. Reed’s name still routinely appears in the paper and he always received a warm, loving applause when his face was shown on the big screen at the old Mosaic Stadium.
That won’t change on Canada Day when he sets foot in the new building, where he hopes that the present-day Riders and the ones that come years from now will try to duplicate the success that his teams had when he suited up. It’ll be fitting that his No. 34 will be on the sidelines as the team transitions into its new home.
The players wearing his shirt should feel honoured, and the fans will undoubtedly appreciate the gesture and another chance to laud a hero that will always be royalty in Saskatchewan.
“What it does for you, it says that you did something the right way and the things that you’ve done have left an impression on people,” Reed says of the latest tribute to him. “And if you can do anything else to assist someone or give someone a head start, that’s what you should do. That’s the way I look at it.”
Photo Courtesy of The Canadian Press