Upon Further Review | WPG 33 HAM 25

There was absolute bedlam all around him – a scene of heartful hugs as tears flowed and throaty cheers filled the air – and there was Stanley Bryant, crouched down on bent knees and with his chin on his chest as he stared at the Tim Hortons Field turf.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers had just finished putting the final touches on an epic come-from-behind 33-25 overtime win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 108th Grey Cup. And a few moments later, Bryant – the veteran left tackle – would take the stage and be the first player to be handed the Grey Cup from Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

Still, right then and right there he looked, well, almost like a guy who had just lost a game instead of winning another championship.

“Stan… Stan… you OK, man?” yours truly began as I neared and reached out to tap him on his right shoulder. “All good?”

Bryant raised his head slowly and then his face instantly opened up into an ear-to-ear smile.

“I’m good. I’m good,” he said. “I just needed a sec. I’m still just trying to figure out what the hell just happened. This… all of this is just unbelievable.”

There was a lot of that Sunday night – euphoria-meets-exhilaration-meets-astonishment – as the Blue Bombers rallied from a 22-10 fourth-quarter deficit to capture the 12th Grey Cup in franchise history and the second in as many seasons.

There is, of course, a great deal of history wrapped around the accomplishment as the 2019/2021 squad became the first Blue Bombers team to win back-to-back championships since 1961-62 and the first CFL team to do so since the Montreal Alouettes of 2009-10. Yet this one was so much different than the ’19 championship in which the Bombers built a 21-6 halftime lead over the Ticats and then slowly squeezed the life out of their opponent to the final whistle.

So dominant during most of the regular season, the Bombers had to will their way back into this one before finishing the deal in extra time as Andrew Harris pounded the ball behind his big offensive line and Zach Collaros found Darvin Adams for a TD and Rasheed Bailey for the two-point convert.

“When we were down we were saying ‘Just keep fighting, keep clawing because it’s going to come our way eventually,’” said guard Pat Neufeld. “We never, ever faltered. We knew we had a chance because this team has always put it on the line for each other. It’s the mantra of our team, a pillar of who we are, and it showed up big when we needed it the most.”

And Bailey, who can get emotional even just saying hello to the postman, was clutching the two-point convert ball like it was a newborn baby after the game. It was Bailey, you may recall, that had a fourth-quarter TD in the 2019 game taken away after video review. So, this one…

“I’m keeping this. I AM KEEPING THIS,” he said. “After what happened when they took it away from me in ‘19? They can’t take this one away from me. I don’t care if it’s a two-point conversion ball. This means everything to me. This symbolizes all the hard work I’ve put in and it’s going to sit up on my counter forever, for the rest of my life. And it’s going to say ‘Back-to-Back’ on it.”

More on the Bombers Grey Cup championship in this year’s final edition of UPON FURTHER REVIEW

SOMEHOW IT WAS ONLY FITTING THAT… the Grey Cup game was sealed with a spectacular play by the defence.

The Bombers opened OT with the Collaros-to-Adams/Collaros-to-Bailey TD and convert. The Ticats then need a TD and convert just to extend OT and when a Don Jackson run was wiped out by a holding penalty, followed by just a two-yard gain on a Jeremiah Masoli pass to Jackson on first & 20, Hamilton’s attack was up against it. On second and 18, Masoli’s pass attempt to Jaelon Acklin was first tipped by Deatrick Nichols, then Winston Rose before being snatched by Kyrie Wilson.

“What a way to finish,” said Rose. “In overtime… wow, that’s football.”

It was a sensational play by Nichols, who also made a critical knockdown near the end of regulation – Masoli again looking for Acklin – just inside the Bombers goal line that would have given Hamilton the win. Instead, they settled for a 13-yard field goal to send the game into overtime.

“I’m feeling pretty good right now,” said Nichols with a grin. “This year was a journey. Coming to the CFL, coming to new football it was tough at times. But I stuck with it and in believing in God and having support from family it was enough to make it work. Watching (the CFL) on TV or on film, it’s totally different than learning the game. I made it. I put the work in. I believed in my guys first and foremost and we made it happen.”

“We weren’t happy about letting them get down the field and tie the game on that last drive in regulation,” added Nick Taylor. “So, to get that opportunity in overtime to hold down the fort was a great way for us to end the season. Everybody was expecting us to come in and handle this game, but we were playing a road game in front of their fans. They had revenge on their minds from 2019 and the script totally flipped from that year with them having all the all-stars and award winners. We didn’t let our heads get too big. We knew we had to battle the whole game.”

Taylor has been sensational for the Bombers since joining the club in 2019 after his release by Edmonton.

“I was talking to my defensive backs coach, JY (Jordan Younger), that the best thing that happened in my career was coming to Winnipeg,” said Taylor. “They changed my whole perspective on how to play the game – how to learn, how to take care of my body and how to be a good teammate by doing all the right things the right way. It’s a blessing to be here on this team and winning it for this organization.”

THERE WAS A TIME… when I used to vote for the Grey Cup player awards back in my newspaper days. No argument with Collaros being named the game’s MVP – after all, he did find his groove after throwing back-to-back interceptions in the third quarter – or with Nic Demski being saluted as top Canadian.

But there were any number of other worthy candidates and that says everything about the talent on this team. Nichols could have been MVP based on his fingerprints being all over two of the game’s biggest plays. Steven Richardson had two sacks and four tackles; Wilson had five tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage; Willie Jefferson had three tackles, tipped a pass that was intercepted by Alden Darby, who also had six tackles; Adams had the game-winning score and five catches for 61 yards – four of them converting second-down oppotunities… and so on and so on.

Jake Thomas would have gotten serious consideration for top Canadian after a four-tackle/one sack effort. Ditto for Drew Wolitarsky after he pulled in four passes for 48 yards. But one of the players that shouldn’t be overlooked for a massive contribution was kicker Sergio Castillo, who went 5-for-5 in the field goal department – from 38, 34, 15, 20 and 45 yards – while also crushing two kickoffs for singles in the fourth quarter and converting the Demski TD. All this into and with a wind that was far more impactful than how it may have looked on TV.

Castillo, acquired from the B.C. Lions in October, finished his partial season with the Bombers by hitting on 12-of-14 on field goals, or 85.7 percent. After the game Castillo had his whole family in the dressing room to partake in the celebration.

“To be a part of something like this is truly special,” said Castillo. “I kept following the CFL when I was away, and I knew this team was special from the moment I got here. To be able to do my part is all anyone can ask for, honestly. To finally be here after six-seven years of figuring it out, it just shows that if you keep believing in the process – as an individual and with the team – how far you can get.

“A year ago to this day – to this very day – I got fired by the New York Jets because I went 1-for-4 in a game. This shows if you keep on going and find a way to keep going mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally that life will show you another opportunity. I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by good people and to have Osh (head coach Mike O’Shea) and Kyle (Walters, GM) believe in me and bring me in late in the season. And now I’m here in the middle of all this celebrating.”

TWO GUYS WHO WERE INJURED IN THE ’19 GREY CUP… and played pivotal roles this past season were really soaking up the post-game vibe. First, centre Michael Couture, who missed the 2019 playoffs after starting all year with an ankle injury.

“This means everything,” said Couture. “Winning it in 2019 and being a part of that team was unreal. But to be out there this time with my brothers… there’s nothing to compare that feeling. There’s no quit in this team. We were down for a good part of that game, but looking around when we were on the sideline there was no doubt in my mind, we were still in it. That’s what I’ve always loved about these guys.”

Asked specifically about his QB, Collaros, Couture added:

“No quit. And no doubt in him. No matter what happened I knew he was going to bounce back, we were all going to bounce back. That’s what this team does.”

And from Brady Oliveira, also injured in 2019 but who played a major role this season and finished in the CFL’s Top 10 in rushing while filling in for Andrew Harris when the future hall of famer was injured.

“Looking back at 2019 and getting that Cup win but having that ankle injury was special,” said Oliveira. “But this year with me getting a few starts and be able to help and contributing to help us get to the Grey Cup it’s been amazing. Being from Winnipeg, the love and support I got this week from people back home has been crazy. I’m glad we were able to win it for them today.”

COOL MOMENT FOR JACKSON JEFFCOAT… having some family at the game, including his father Jim – the long-time star defensive end with the Dallas Cowboys and Buffalo Bills who won consecutive titles with wins in Super Bowl XXVII and XXVIII as a member of the Cowboys.

“I was just talking to my dad, to Darrell Patterson (Bombers defensive line coach) and loving on my guys. It’s been great. It’s special,” said Jeffcoat while standing on the field after the game on Sunday. “I want to sit out here and embrace this because there’s not many times you can win a Grey Cup and we’ve done it back-to-back. It’s special.

“Now I’ve got a back-to-back championship. We’ve got some back-to-back pictures now so this is fun. It’s good to have him here.”

AND, FINALLY… there will be a time to turn our collective eyeballs toward 2022 and a possible three-peat. But it’s time to celebrate this group and those who wish to do so can be a part of it all Wednesday night at IG Field.

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