First & 10 : Grey Cup Rings

It’s big and it’s bold and includes the expected amount of bling that comes with any championship ring. There are Manitoba nods and personal touches, and the whole package is dominated by the iconic ‘W’ as the featured element.

Some members of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers got their first look at their 2019 Grey Cup championship rings Thursday night in a private ceremony at Confusion Corner Drinks & Food and the reaction from the players, coaches and staff in attendance was a combination of pure joy mixed with silent wonderment.

“You’d probably think there was going to be a lot of yelling, a lot of shouting, a lot of oohs and aahs,” said Bombers slotback Nik Demski. “But, honestly, everybody was just silent because your breath is really taken away by this.

“It’s amazing. It’s unbelievable. It’s definitely a memory that’s going to last a lifetime.”

This was initially supposed to be a celebration that was to take place in the days before the home opener back in June. It was to be capped with a banner raising in what the club had hoped would have been a sold-out crowd at IG Field.

Bombers President & CEO was emotional in speaking to the crowd Thursday, lamenting what could have been, while also reminding the players to focus on the accomplishment from last November.

Both head coach Mike O’Shea and Kyle Walters echoed the same sentiments in their addresses. All this unfolded, meanwhile, as players and staff wait for some sort of news on a possible 2020 Canadian Football League season.

“I just wanted to see it, to be honest, because we’ve been waiting to see it for such a long time,” said Demski. “Obviously I wish all the teammates were here to open it up with them, but in times like this you can’t control that kind of stuff.

“We had some teammates here, but (the other players will) get their rings, we’ll meet again and I’m sure we’ll be able to talk about it then.”

The players in attendance Thursday included Demski, Andrew Harris, Adam Bighill, Drew Wolitarsky, Thomas Miles, John Rush, Geoff Gray, Chad Rempel and Brady Oliveira. Those not in Winnipeg got their first peek at the rings in a team Zoom call Wednesday night.

“That’s irrelevant compared to all the memories you are going to share and think about 20 years down the road,” said O’Shea, who praised the dedication of all the players, coaches and staff. “The phone calls you are going to make… the reliving the moments, the great moments and the absolutely epic run through the playoffs and thrashing fantastic opponents one by one and knocking them off.”

More notes, quotes, links and other ponderings in this week’s 1st & 10 – an edition dominated by championship ring talk…

1. Baron Championship Rings – the same company that designed the Toronto Raptors jewelry – did a superb job in the design of the Bombers Grey Cup rings.

The diamond-studded rings are two-tone – white gold and yellow gold – that, as we mentioned above, features the ‘W’ as the highlight. The outer edge of the face is lined with 11 sapphire stones, representing the franchise’s 11 Grey Cup titles.

On the shoulders, one side includes the player name and number in diamonds over the IG Field background. The opposite side features the Winnipeg skyline behind the Grey Cup and Golden Boy and is framed by the team name and year.

“It’s big. I was on the design committee and one of the last things we told Wade was ‘Bigger… bigger’ and he came through,” said Adam Bighill. “Seeing the demos and the first and second editions, this blows you away.”

Joining Bighill on the design committee were Harris, Rempel, Kyle Walters and Coach O’Shea.

“We just wanted to get something different and a lot more unique, something that would stick out from the other rings that have been done in the last 10 years,” Bighill said. “Baron was able to provide us with some great options for that. If you look at what they did with the Raptors ring recently, it was pretty awesome. We saw the things that could be done and worked through that process.”

Asked how much the rings weigh, Demski said:

“I don’t know, but it’s definitely bringing my hand down. I’m doing a workout just holding it up right now. The big ‘W’ on the front, that basically takes home the prize. Honestly, just everything about it is amazing.”

2. One of the cool aspects of the ring is what is included on the underside which includes the Grey Cup score, ‘For the W’ and an personalized message.

Demski’s message is ‘For Life’.

“It’s going to be a memory for life,” he said. “This is something nobody can take away from us. It’s for life.”

Wolitarsky, meanwhile, chose not to add a message.

“They couldn’t fit the things I could say about this moment on there,” he joked.

3. Another story on the personalized inscriptions, this one from Winnipegger Brady Oliveira. You may recall that Oliveira missed most of last season after breaking his leg in the club’s home opener.

His inscription is ‘James 1:2-4’, a reference to the Biblical quote:

‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’

“My running back coach at UND, Malcolm Agnew – he’s now at Sacramento State – sent me a message right when I got out of surgery,” Oliveira explained. “It said, ‘I love you. You’re a tough kid who has been through a lot in your life. Keep pushing. This is just another roadblock and adversity you have to face. Keep chasing greatness. I want you to read this verse and continue to read it.’

“It really stuck with me, so much that I actually ended up getting it tattooed on my ribs because it meant so much.”

4. A touching moment in Thursday’s ceremony was the Bombers organization surprising long-time play-by play man Bob Irving – check that, the Legendary Bob Irving – with his own ring.

It was presented to ‘Knuckles’, who first started calling games for CJOB in 1973, by Mike O’Shea.

“We need to recognize that not only do we have a hall of fame broadcaster in Bob, but a professional,” said O’Shea. “He’s truly so supportive of everyone in this room and anyone in this organization. I know he has for me, because the first couple of years were rough and Bob was a great confidante and supporter of mine. I’m truly honoured and blessed to call him a friend.”

Yours truly just so happened to be sitting with Knuckles and his wife Daye when he received the ring, and captured the moment on video.

“I’m thrilled and honoured that the football club would think I’m a person that should receive a great honour like this,” Irving said. “Beyond that, I don’t know what to say. It’s really cool. It’s a real highlight of all the years I’ve covered the team and that Grey Cup last year was icing on the cake.

“I certainly never expected to get a ring. I had no idea. When Mike O’Shea gave it to me it really was emotional. I’ve covered this team for 47 years and have an affinity for the club and a great appreciation for the job that Wade and Kyle and Mike have done. To be honoured with something as precious as this is something I’ll never forget. This is probably the most special thing that’s happened to me in relation to covering football for so long. It’s a wonderful moment.”

5. So many fans have e-mailed, phoned, and reached out on social media about getting replica rings or other ring-inspired merchandise. Here’s the plug and the link for that: www.bluebombersring.com.

6 One more Grey-Cup related note from earlier in the week…

Had to smile hearing Chris Cuthbert, the long-time voice of the CFL on TSN, use this analogy in a call on a goal by Nikolaj Ehlers of the Winnipeg Jets:

‘What a pass from Dmitri Kulikov! A Zach Collaros long bomb and Ehlers has goals in back-to-back games.”

Sure going to miss Cuthbert’s CFL calls now that he has moved full-time to hockey, but he has a soft spot in his heart for football and the last game he called was the Bombers win in last November’s Grey Cup.

7. No doubt some Bombers fans are you tracking the four players from last year’s team now at NFL camps – quarterback Chris Streveler (Arizona), defensive lineman Jonathan Kongbo (San Francisco), defensive back Marcus Sayles (Minnesota) and cornerback Winston Rose.

Rose got a mention in this piece as a ‘sleeper’ along with LeShaun Sims.

Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo said this of Rose and Sims:

“It’s not just those two. Those two have played a lot of ball and have done very well, but don’t sleep on LeShaun Sims. Don’t sleep on Winston Rose. Those guys are guys that have been successful. Winston up in Canada, having all those interceptions the last couple of years. LeShaun Sims has played meaningful football in big games. They’re all big guys. They all have length to them.”

8. Long-time Winnipeg sportscaster Joe Pascucci, who now lives in Toronto, has an unbelievable archive of Bombers footage. The Bombers were to have been in Ottawa this week as part of a Ontario double-header that was to begin with a visit to Toronto.

Joe dusted off clips from one of the Bombers’ most memorable comebacks, a win in 1978 in which the club was down by 12 with 62 seconds remaining in a game against Ottawa by eeked out a 31-29 victory.

9. Let’s keep the comeback theme going with another on that topic.

Not too long ago our social media team tweeted this about the miraculous comeback against Montreal a couple years back while asking the question where it ranks in franchise history.

We checked, and for the record the largest comeback in Bombers history came on October 22, 1994, a 46-44 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at old Winnipeg/Canad Inns Stadium in which the home side overcame a 27-point deficit.

The Bombers trailed 34-7 at halftime, but scored 33 points in the third quarter to narrow the Hamilton lead to 41-40. The game was decided on a Troy Westwood 35-yard field goal with 27 seconds remaining.

10. And, finally, this week’s excellent read comes from Sean Fitz-Gerald of The Athletic this week on the changing of the nickname of the Edmonton football team.

For those that don’t have a subscription, it provides an in-depth look at the old ‘Eskimos’ nickname and its history and the subsequent push for change. It also ends with a quote from Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, who is Métis.

“I think they deserve a ton of credit,” Bowman told The Athletic. “I think for all of the criticism that the team name had solicited over the years, I think all those who have called for the change should provide some appreciation to the team for doing the right thing, and going in the right direction.

“Let’s also be clear,” Bowman added, “It doesn’t matter what their name is: We’re still going to kick their ass on the field.”

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