This is why they play


HAMILTON – The question hadn’t yet come to completion, and you could already see the emotion wash over the face of Winnipeg Blue Bombers right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick.

As a professional athlete, Hardrick knows exactly the type of sacrifices required to get to where he is. He also knows he hasn’t done it alone, that there are others behind the scenes who also give their blood, sweat and tears in making sure he can be at his best — so he can live out his dream.

Blue Bombers defensive back Winston Rose wears a necklace with a pendant in memory of his brother. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>
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Blue Bombers defensive back Winston Rose wears a necklace with a pendant in memory of his brother. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“Definitely my wife and three kids,” Hardrick said in an interview with the Free Press, his speech slowing with each word. “For me to be here right now, they sacrifice every six months. My kids, they go to a Canadian school half the year and an American school half the year. They’re excited to get here and I can’t wait to see them.”

Hardrick and the Bombers have spent all Grey Cup week talking about the various storylines heading into Sunday’s game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Tim Hortons Field. While the primary focus has been on whether Winnipeg can defend its title from 2019, the concern of playing against a raucous Hamilton home crowd and where they might fit among the best teams in league history if they win back-to-back championships, the week has also provided the opportunity for reflection.

A chance to look back on all the unsung heroes — the families and friends who have offered their unwavering support along the way.

“For me to play football, my wife basically allows me to put our dreams on hold; does work online and just takes care of the kids,” Hardrick said. “She’s there to give me an extra hour for a nap or an extra hour of film study. For this game here, she meal prepped a lot of food for me and in 2019 she meal prepped for me, too.”

Hardrick’s wife, Samantha, and their three kids – Jermarcus Jr., Santana and Lyla – will all be there on Sunday.

Blue Bombers defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall was overcome with emotion after the Bombers 2019 Grey Cup victory. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>
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Blue Bombers defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall was overcome with emotion after the Bombers 2019 Grey Cup victory. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“I couldn’t thank my wife and my three kids enough for allowing me to be in this spot,” he said.

Bombers defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall will call his second straight game with a heavy heart.

“I lost my dad right before camp in May,” said Hall, who shares the same name as his father. “I think about him often. He was a big football fan and a big supporter.”

Just months before the 2019 Grey Cup in Calgary, Hall had to briefly leave the team following the sudden death of his brother Michael. When the Bombers defeated the Tiger-Cats, 33-12, Hall could be seen sobbing in the end zone at McMahon Stadium.

The two were extremely close, with Michael just 18 months younger. They often talked football over the phone. He was 57.

When Hall won the 2013 Grey Cup as the defensive co-ordinator for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, two months later his mother passed. All three have been on his mind this week.

“They’ve all been significant,” Hall said. “We’re a very strong family and they’ve been very supportive of all of our successes. That’s who I’m always thinking about.”

Bombers defensive back Winston Rose wears a gold chain around his neck, with a pendant that has a picture of his late brother, Ashton Crosswell, in it. In 2012, Crosswell was shot on a street in Watts, Calif., dying eight days later.

He was 17 at the time. Rose said his mother bought him the gold chain last Christmas.

“It means everything. It means everything because this is my why,” Rose said. “This is the reason why I’m still playing football because I feel like to this day, if he was alive, we’d both be in the same situation. We’d both be playing football. So, this is my why.”

Buck Pierce and his wife, Lori, and their two kids – daughter Bailey and son Bo — have lived the usual hectic life of a football family over the 2021 CFL season. But it wasn’t long ago that Lori was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, marking her second bout with a life-threatening disease after beating breast cancer in 2018.

Lori has been in remission since November 2020, and has made the trip to Hamilton to cheer on her husband in what is his first season as the Bombers offensive co-ordinator.

“Over the last couple of years and all those kinds of things that we went through, I’m reminded of it all the time,” said Pierce. “I lean on those experiences all the time. It’s made me into the person I am – extremely grateful, extremely thankful for every opportunity that we have.”

He added: “Understanding who I am as a person, as a coach, helped me get through those situations. It’s been a good year.”

Then there’s the great appreciation for one another in the locker room, especially knowing a team never fully returns year after year. A victory on Sunday would only strengthen that bond built over a season.

“I’ll think of everybody that was out there on the field with me, everybody that laid their body on the line,” receiver Nic Demski said. “Everybody is my brother in this locker room and we’re going to go out there and play for each other, try to get this win.”

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

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