© Scott Anderson
Saskatchewan Roughrider Mike McCullough signs a jersey during an autograph session before the SWT Sportsman Dinner and Auction in Gull Lake on Saturday.
A chance to meet some of their Grey Cup heroes was the ideal ingredient to attract a record crowd to Saturday's SWT Sportsman Dinner and Auction in Gull Lake.
In just the second year of this community fundraiser, the popular event attracted an additional 80 people from the large crowd attracted to their first event in 2013.
The Saskatchewan Roughrider trio of Geroy Simon, Mike McCullough and retired Matt Dominguez were the featured guests at the capacity event at the Gull Lake Community Hall. All three boast Grey Cup championships with the Riders, with Simon and McCullough still riding high from winning the 101st Grey Cup on home turf by routing the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 45-23.
"Every month after you win is pretty good," admitted McCullough, an 11 year CFL veteran who now boasts a 2007 and 2013 Grey Cup ring with the Riders.
McCullough, who turned 34 this past March, is still weighing the option of returning for a 12th season with the Riders.
"I've still got to get a couple of more medical reports, talk to the management and see kind of where we're at. They've given me all the time in the world and left it up to me, which is nice," McCullough said during an autograph session on Saturday.
"I"m going to have a decision I think here in the next couple of weeks so I don't leave it hanging on too long."
This past campaign the veteran middle linebacker missed the first nine games of the season after tearing a bicep during training camp. He returned to the lineup with a flourish, finishing the year with 24 tackles, two sacks, and he two forced fumbles. He was named a CFL Gibson's Finest Canadian Player of the Week in October following an eight tackle performance in a win over visiting Toronto.
"It was a rough year," he admitted. "I definitely kind of went through the whole roller coaster of emotions and situations. It was new to me, I'd only been hurt one time in 10 years previous to that."
"Any time you end the year with a win and a championship, anything that happened before that doesn't really matter."
McCullough who currently ranks in the top 20 in Roughrider games played, has played 188 career games, and had boasted a streak of 110 consecutive games played before his pre-season injury at the start of last season.
He admitted that there were significant changes to the Riders defence before the start of the 2013 season to position them for a strong campaign despite the big turnover of personnel.
"It was good change. A lot of the guys we brought, like Dwight Anderson, Weldon Brown, Ricky Foley, John Chick, having those guys come in with veteran status. We had more Grey Cup experience and rings in the locker room than the previous year. Anytime you bring in experience, and that kind of quality experience, it's always a good thing. So we were really excited going in. And not only because the Grey Cup was at home, but because we knew we had a special team. Luckily we pulled it through."
Geroy Simon has been getting an extensive look at Saskatchewan as he prepares to enter his second full season with the Green and White.
As a first year Roughrider, but as a 15 year CFL veteran and now three time Grey Cup champion, Simon was part of the veteran leadership group that helped lead the Riders to the 2013 Grey Cup, even though it was not exactly the roll he envisioned playing at the start of the season.
"It ended the way that I anticipated, but I thought I would catch a few more balls during the season. I thought I would have a little bit more success individually. But I knew we had a very good team. We had a lot of talent and I knew that we were going to win a lot of games," Simon said during a recent interview.
"I think that's why I was brought to the team," he said of his veteran leadership. "In my eyes I thought it was going to be more for the talent side of it, but I think they wanted my leadership and my experience."
Simon said that his experiences over the years helped him be a good teammate and positive influence in the dressing room.
"I think the mixture of everything that we had in the room, with the talent, the veteran leadership, the young guys, all that mixed well and obviously we finished the thing off the way we wanted to."
personally how cap this season compared to other.
Admittedly, this year's Grey Cup title was special, but for different reasons that during his previous championship seasons.
"In the 2006 year I was named the Most Outstanding Player as well as winning the Grey Cup, that was very special to me. In 2011 we started 1-7 and ended up winning the Grey Cup at the end of the year, so that's very special. And this year was special in a different sense that I felt like I was kind of cast away in B.C… And when given the opportunity to come here I just said this is a year that I think we can win a Grey Cup, and we did that so it was special in it's own way as well."
Matt Dominquez enjoyed a successful six year career with the Riders before retiring after the 2008 season, and despite a shortened career following a series of knee injuries he ranks in the top 20 in franchise history with 250 receptions and 3,741 receiving yards.
He remains an ambassador for the Riders, speaking at events across the province and sharing his insights on the CKRM pre and post game radio broadcasts plus during a televised segment on CTV.
"It was good to see. It's like a once in a lifetime type thing where you've got the home team playing in the Grey Cup. It was the Roughriders, the province was just electric, and for them to win, and in the fashion that they won, it was a once-in-a-lifetime type thing. It was so good to see that. All these guys here should be applauded for all the work they've done."
Dominguez has transitioned from a professional football career into a successful business career as the Branch Manager of the Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Signature Service office in Moose Jaw. This transition has given him a fuller appreciation of the impact of the Riders on the province.
"You see how the Roughrider brand effects people. They effect individual businesses, even the community at large."
Ironically, he points out, the Riders rise to the league elite has mirrored a bolstering of Saskatchewan's economy dating back to Saskatchewan's Grey Cup victory in 2007.
Dominguez is pleased with his legacy as a player and his contribution to the atmosphere surrounding the team today.
"I'm proud that I was a part of the building of the team that you see now. The building of the culture you see now."
He broke into the league in 2003, he was named a West Division all-star in 2006, and was a member of the 2007 Grey Cup champion team.
"We've been pretty good since then. To be a part of the time frame - I call it the Green Age instead of the Golden Age - this is kind of the Green Age where we're going to be good, and we should be good. To be part of that is great.
"So I look back on my six years playing with a proud heart. I'm grateful for all that I was able to accomplish and the guys I've been able to play with."
While just in its second year, the SWT Sportsman Dinner and Auction has been an anticipated labour of love for the entire staff of SWT.
"It's a lot of fun. It's a lot of work and effort that's put in by our staff, but it's part of what our mission of giving back to the communities in which we live and work in. So our staff really enjoys doing it. That's why they took it head on and wanted to do another one this year, and they want to keep doing it year after year," admitted Monty Reich, General Manager at SWT.
The Sportsman Dinner and Auction has also been a success because of the support from across the entire region, with people willing to spend the admission price of $100 a ticket.
This year's proceeds from the Gull Lake event will support the Autumn House Independent Living Facility Inc. Last year's debut event directed proceeds to Gull Lake's Lyceum Theatre.
"That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to find something that's in the community that benefits the community and the surrounding area," Reich noted.
SWT staff are now gearing up for a back-to-back fundraising weekend, as on April 12 they will be hosting a second Sportsman Dinner and Auction in Cabri. Saturday's event at Cabri School Gymnasium features Chris Getzlaf, Scott Schultz and Bob Poley. An autograph session will be hosted from 4:30 p.m. to 5:15 p.m., followed by cocktails and supper.
"We wanted to spread it out. We've got locations in four different towns, and what we want to do is try to do something that spreads it out."
Proceeds from the Cabri fundraising event will be directed towards the Ever Green Early Learning Centre and the Cabri Ice Centre.