VANCOUVER - Rain-soaked football fans from across Canada got the party started early Saturday with a parade and plenty of Grey Cup festivities before Sunday's kickoff between the B.C. Lions and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Calgary Stampeders fan Dave Chiulli was forced to walk the streets of downtown Vancouver wearing a kilt and a Lions jersey after losing a bet to friend Brennan Reid.
Chiulli, a proud Italian, said he's paid for the loss for nearly a decade.
"Every year the Stampeders aren't in the Cup, I gotta dress in the opposition's clothes, with my kilt," he said near the parade route.
"I think B.C.'s gonna steamroll Winnipeg tomorrow," Chiulli said, as Reid, a Saskatchewan Roughriders fan, said he would be cheering for the Blue Bombers.
Richmond, B.C., resident Debbie Wilde proclaimed herself the top Lions fan, saying she's loved the game since she was a child and can't wait to see her team win the Cup on home turf.
"My dad was a huge fan, but my mom was even worse," she said. "I remember them having Grey Cup parties and me dressing up my dolls as mascots."
In 2007, a year after her mother died, Wilde said she discovered an old answering machine and decided to listen for any messages that might have been left on the cassette tape.
"Oh my gosh, there was my mom," she said of the message that was left in 2006 by the woman who rarely ever left voice mail.
"I bet you guys are marching off to Winnipeg to get that Grey Cup on your own," her mother said of the Grey Cup game that year in Winnipeg, when the Lions beat the Montreal Alouettes 25-14.
Wilde will be headed to the big game at BC Place Stadium after winning the tickets in a contest.
As far as Warren Gosselin is concerned, the Lions don't have a chance against the Blue Bombers.
"I live in Vancouver but I'm from Winnipeg and I know the Bombers are going to win," he said. "You can't change true blue."
The team that hasn't snatched the Grey Cup since 1990 is hungry for a win," he said outside a hotel where fans wearing various team colours whooped it up before game day.
Gosselin said he's been taking in the festivities with a group of 20 friends from across the country and that they're all cheering for different teams.
"There's a bit of a mix of what things we like to do but the Spirit of Edmonton breakfast is always the top event of the weekend," he said. "Edmonton isn't the best of teams but they throw a heck of a breakfast. Their MC is fantastic, the shows that they have, from the cheerleading events and all the music events that they have, are top notch."
Fellow Bombers fan Scott Moody said he's hoping Lions fans don't set off a riot if their team loses in keeping with what happened in June after the Vancouver Canucks' loss in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final against the Boston Bruins.
"You guys have riots," he said. "We don't do that in Winnipeg. You have a beautiful new stadium but don't burn it down if you lose, when you lose."
Lions coach and general manager Wally Buono was asked at a news conference Saturday if there is any more pressure on his team to win, especially after the riot that involved thousands of people following the Canucks' loss.
"Sports in my mind is for a community, a province, a country to get behind it," Buono said.
"Win or lose, there is no reason ever for what happened. You lose, it's disappointing. I know fans are quite emotional, quite involved. But at the end of the day it's entertainment."
Vancouver deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston said Grey Cup events will have a different oversight structure than the events that preceded the riot.
He said a committee that will ensure safety is the key element during four days of Grey Cup activities includes senior officials from police, fire, ambulance, the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and E-comm, which provides 911 dispatch service for Metro Vancouver and other B.C. communities.
"That's different coming out of the riot," he said of the co-ordinated approach to Grey Cup festivities, which this year will not include a fenced in easy-to-climb area where alcohol is served.
"In past events, they've often had an outdoor beer garden and that was moved indoors, in a more secure environment that's easier to control who's drinking and how many people there are," he said.
The province's Liquor Control and Licensing Branch did not grant restaurants and bars any temporary liquor licences during Grey Cup weekend this year to ensure there wasn't any alcohol-related trouble, Johnston said.
"Those are decisions that were made by the province based on lessons learned out of the riot, which is we need to limit the amount of alcohol that's being consumed when you've got a lot of sport-going fans in a small area."
Johnston said security staff will be doing liquor checks at various sites, including the Family Fun Zone outside BC Place.
The Grey Cup Committee has been working with the city for the past year to ensure safety and fun are the key elements of the weekend.
"If you contrast that with something like the Stanley Cup, where the city has no notice, the (NHL) plays no role in outdoor activations, and basically it's a total free-for-all and the city is kind of constantly trying to catch up. This is a situation where we've got a very well-run organization planning the activation and making a safe celebration area. So it's a very different kind of environment."