Pat Neufeld was on the line during a media conference call, riffing on a number of subjects after officially putting his name on a one-year contract extension with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
It’s all sunshine, rainbows and a Grey Cup championship now for the veteran guard, who will make 2021 his 10th season in the Canadian Football League and seventh with the Blue Bombers.
It wasn’t always that way, however. And Neufeld can still vividly recall his first impressions when he was traded to Winnipeg by the Saskatchewan Roughriders in October of 2013 for defensive end Alex Hall and a second-round draft pick.
“When I first got to Winnipeg it was tough,” Neufeld recalled. “The club was obviously changing directions with the change in coaching staff, the change in CEO and GM… everything was changing.
“I remember getting traded to Winnipeg and walking in the locker room and there was a row of those portable lockers from end to end in our locker room. I’d never seen anything like that. It was tough, for sure.”
“Once Kyle (Walters) was fully the GM (after serving on an interim basis) and Wade (Miller) was the CEO and the hiring of Osh (head coach Mike O’Shea) it instantly changed the culture.”
The turnaround wasn’t instantaneous, however. The Bombers were 1-3 to finish up 2013 after dealing for Neufeld and then went 7-11 and 5-13 over the next two seasons.
But when the club found some consistency up front in 2016, among other factors, the Bombers began to find some solid footing. The club qualified for the playoffs over the next four years, racking up a 44-28 record in the process and ultimately capturing the Grey Cup in 2019.
“Early on it was still tough, we were still finding our identity and still finding the right group of guys,” said Neufeld. “But deep down it was something I personally wanted to work at because the team that traded for me showed that they wanted me, so I wanted to be there and do right by them.
“Then we just found a group. We signed Stanley Bryant. We signed Jermarcus (Hardrick). We had guys like Goose (Matthias Goossen) and Sukh (Chungh) who were tone-setters and culture-setters for us. We had a tremendous coach in Bob Wylie who definitely changed the way our group prepared for games, played together and just really wanted to do things as a unit.
“We’ve carried that on with our coach now, Marty (Costello) and he’s so big on us being a unit, being a tight-knit unit. For us, it’s just second nature now.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again,” Neufeld added. “I love those guys in that room. I’d go to battle with those guys any day. They’re like brothers to me.”
In many ways, Neufeld’s entire CFL career was encapsulated by what unfolded in 2019. Just prior to training camp he was felled by an injury, the recovery of which lasted into September.
But when he returned for the final six regular season games and the playoffs the veteran guard was at his best, culminating with his Grey Cup performance – a game he called one of the best of his entire career.
“If anything it really made me dig into the playbook, dig into being a good teammate, supporting those guys and they had everything they needed and I could give them from a teammate perspective,” he said. “Finally, once I got healthy and was healthy I just wanted to maintain and elevate the standard those guys were playing. I wanted to come in and not be that weak link. To me, that was a big motivating factor – to not let my teammates down.”
A lifelong Rider fan and then a player before being traded to Winnipeg, Neufeld has found a home with the Bombers, so much so that he said his decision to re-sign was a ‘super easy decision.’
Part of that is overcoming all the potholes and roadblocks on his own journey, but that of the team, too, over his years here.
“I’m really glad that things happened the way they did because I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” he said. “I love being a part of this organization. They’ve supported me through my injuries and times where it’s been tough and there’s been moments where you could say, ‘Is he worth having around anymore?’ I’m just happy they have stuck by me.”
BLUE NOTES: The Bombers agreed to terms on a one-year contract extension with Canadian linebacker Jesse Briggs on Wednesday – less than a month before he was to become a free agent.
Briggs, 30, was the Bombers second-round draft choice (17th overall) in the 2014 CFL Draft and has suited up for 91 games over his career here. He was limited to four regular-season and the three playoff games last year because of injury, but is constantly lauded by the coaching staff for his professionalism and his work on special teams.
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