Champs touch down


Blue Bombers fans and players will get to celebrate the team’s Grey Cup win together, but the COVID-19 pandemic means it will be anything but traditional.

The back-to-back CFL champions are holding a controlled celebration for thousands of fans at IG Field Wednesday at 6 p.m. instead of a parade through downtown Winnipeg.

Every fan in attendance must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and will be required to show an immunization QR code to enter the stadium.

A statement from the team said health and safety regulations are preventing it from hosting a parade after Sunday’s thrilling 33-25 overtime win over the host Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 108th Grey Cup.

This year’s Winnipeg Santa Claus Parade was also cancelled due to pandemic concerns.

Sunday’s Grey Cup was a rematch of the 2019 final, which the Bombers won 33-12 and celebrated with a downtown parade and an energized rally at The Forks.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers arrive home from Hamilton Monday afternoon. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers arrive home from Hamilton Monday afternoon. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

The 2020 season was cancelled due to the pandemic.

There were no cheering crowds when the Bombers returned to Winnipeg on Monday afternoon as fans were asked not to gather at Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson Airport to welcome them home.

Three fire trucks escorted the team’s chartered plane to a private terminal, where about a dozen people who work alongside the security fence took pictures as players — about a dozen of them shirtless in -5 C weather — and staff emerged.

Longtime fan Karen Cox, 35, wrapped herself in a Bombers scarf and wore a face mask bearing the team’s logo as she took a break from her job in customer service at Fast Air Jet Centre.

“I was trying to hold myself back like a teenager at a Beatles concert,” said Cox. “This is the coolest experience I’ve had.”

Cox, a season ticket holder, had already booked Wednesday off so she could attend the celebration at IG Field.

Fan Mustafa Zec, who was waiting for a flight, was still on a high from the Bombers’ comeback win.

Willie Jefferson hopes fans will show Bomber pride at IG Field on Wednesday. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Willie Jefferson hopes fans will show Bomber pride at IG Field on Wednesday. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a game like that. It was so emotional. To catch up and go into overtime and win, it was amazing,” he said.

Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson had a message and an apology for fans after he carried the Grey Cup off the plane and hoisted it over his head.

“We came back to the city of Winnipeg as champions. We will see ya’ll at the stadium,” he said. “I’m sorry we’re not having a parade.”

Jefferson encouraged fans to show “Bomber pride” and “have a great time”, saying the victory and the celebration are “specifically for them.”

Fans will be allowed to enter IG Field through gates 1, 2 and 3 at 5 p.m.

Limited concessions will be open and Grey Cup merchandise will be on sale.

Immediately following Sunday night’s victory, a large crowd appearing to number in the hundreds gathered at Portage Avenue and Main Street to celebrate.

Blue Bombers fans congregate Sunday at Portage and Main to celebrate the Bombers Grey Cup win. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press) December 12, 2021

Blue Bombers fans congregate Sunday at Portage and Main to celebrate the Bombers Grey Cup win. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press) December 12, 2021

The current regulations prohibit gatherings of more than 50 people in uncontrolled outdoor public spaces.

Former premier Kelvin Goertzen, Winnipeg city councillor Jeff Browaty and former MLA Andrew Swan, now general counsel with Doctors Manitoba, were among those pictured on Twitter at the impromptu celebration.

A spokesman for Goertzen said the current minister of legislative and public affairs was at his wife Kimberley’s Christmas party at Hy’s Steakhouse & Cocktail Bar “and on his way to his car encountered some fans” who were celebrating.

“He stopped to allow a few people to take some photos and left promptly afterward,” the spokesman said.

Browaty went to the intersection after watching the game at home.

He didn’t think of the outdoor limit until people started talking about whether the Bombers would hold a parade, he said.

“I didn’t realize when I got there that we were perhaps breaking the rules,” Browaty said. “I didn’t feel it was a super high-risk event, but I do respect and appreciate public health orders.”

Winnipeg police did not receive any complaints about the street gathering, a spokeswoman said.

A spokesperson for the province was not aware of any enforcement issues.

chris.kitching@winnipegfreepress.com

Twitter: @chriskitching

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