Last Sunday before that incredible football game between the Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills, I listened to the national anthem and something occurred to me that made me think of an interesting moment that happened several years ago.
I was in Winnipeg on business and there happened to be a football game in town that night so I thought I’d stick around and catch the Winnipeg Blue Bombers against the Sacramento Gold Miners. The Sacramento team was the first Canadian Football League team in the United States so that too, was a reason to attend.
Since an American team was playing, standard protocol was to play the “Star Spangled Banner” before “Oh Canada.”
But before that happened, several members of the Canadian Airborne Regiment dropped out of a C-130 transport aircraft right over the top of Winnipeg Stadium.
One of them was carrying the Canadian flag, one of them was carrying the American flag and one of them was carrying the game ball.
As the paratroopers got closer to the playing field, an elderly gentleman beside me, who had absolutely no idea who I was, looked at me and said, “I was in the war, you know! Those Americans, they were some good ole’ boys.”
I assumed by his age and Canada’s military background that he must have fought in Europe in World War II.
When they played the “Star Spangled Banner,” the elderly gentleman next to me and a woman about 50 years old on the other side of me, sang it like nobody’s business.
It was incredible hearing these Canadians singing our national anthem in Winnipeg Stadium. I just looked at them both with my mouth open. Again, the two of them had no idea there was an American standing between them.
When “Oh Canada” was played, I tried unsuccessfully to sing it. I actually kind of hummed it just to save myself from total embarrassment. Following the national anthems, everyone among the 35,000 in attendance gave a good round of applause.
About that same time, I thought about telling these two people on either side of me that I was an American from North Dakota. But then I thought, why open my mouth. Some things are better left unsaid. It was a proud moment for me as an Army veteran to listen and absorb that feeling.
The thing is, we take what we have for granted until we’re away from it. Then the pride factor of being an American, even as close as Winnipeg, in Canada, is magnified.
I had a good conversation with those two throughout the game and shared popcorn with them. I wonder if it would have been different had I told them I was from Langdon, just across the border, in North Dakota?
Unfortunately, they didn’t have many kind words to say about the Sacramento Gold Miners. Because the Gold Miners (who no longer exist) played out of Hornet Field in Sacramento, they were exempt from certain CFL rules and I think these folks thought it gave the Gold Miners an unfair advantage.
The truth is Winnipeg beat them that night and they finished their inaugural season with a 6-12 record.
But the real story was with that elderly gentleman to my right. And, as a news reporter, I so wanted to get his story about the war, but it wasn’t the time or place for that.
It was a time to enjoy the fact that these two Canadians from the big city sang our national anthem better than I could have ever done. We are so blessed to have such good neighbors. There’s a mutual respect and trust that resonates far beyond a football game.
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