Blue Bombers, fans, drinking in the glory of winning back-to-back Grey Cups

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They were not allowed to have a Grey Cup parade in downtown Winnipeg because of COVID-19 health regulations, so they brought the party to their own house on Wednesday night and put on one last show.

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With thousands of fans braving cold temperatures, freezing drizzle that turned to snow, and a strong December north wind, the Blue Bombers had a mini-parade and a big old celebration at IG Field, with players and coaches waving to fans and showing off the Grey Cup from the backs of pickup trucks.

The players stood shirtless on the stage, bounced to music, pounded beers, gave wobbly words of wisdom, and revelled in the love fans had to give for a team that won its second straight CFL championship last Sunday, with an exhilarating 33-25 overtime victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Hamilton.

Bombers general manager Kyle Walters said what many of the Winnipeggers were thinking as they experienced the feeling of supporting a back-to-back champion for the first time since 1962.

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“Let’s try to get them all to re-sign and let’s go back-to-back-to-back!,” Walters said over the PA system.

Getting them all to re-sign — almost all of them are free agents — will be all but impossible, but that’s something to worry about on another day.

This evening was all about fans celebrating a team that won with hard work, dedication, love for one another, and an immense amount of talent, and the players giving something back to the fans who have been there all season in a most trying year for the CFL.

Many of the Bombers players had their wives and families on the field with them, with little kids running around and joining in the celebration.

“It’s special for all of us,” Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros said. “Missing a full season and having one like we just had and winning the championship and playing in this stadium, what was it, eight times this season? It was just rocking the whole time. It’s really special for us to be out here with our fans. I hope it’s special for them, too.”

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The fans seemed to soak up every minute of it, breaking into chants of “O’Shea, O’Shea, O’Shea, O’Shea,” when the Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea took the stage.

Quarterback Zach Collaros shows off the Grey Cup. KEVIN KING/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network
Quarterback Zach Collaros shows off the Grey Cup. KEVIN KING/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network
Winston Rose parades the Grey Cup in front of media. KEVIN KING/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network
Winston Rose parades the Grey Cup in front of media. KEVIN KING/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network

O’Shea, now a Grey Cup champion six times, was giving it right back to the fans.

“I think (the adulation is) somewhat overstated, but you can’t take away their emotion,” O’Shea said in an interview before the celebration.

“I’ll give you this bit: When I went to university I wanted to be a brew-master. I wanted to become a brew-master because I had so many memories of the neighbours sitting around the dock, having a beer, and it seems like all good times.

“So you brew beer and people usually have a good time socializing like that. I’m now in a different profession, I’m not a brew-master. But if you say the Winnipeg Blue Bombers give people a lot of joy, then I’m in the right business, doing the same thing.”

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The Bombers won their first Grey Cup in 29 years in 2019, sat out all of 2020 like everyone else in the CFL, and then came back and dominated the league from start to finish.

Even so, it took every ounce of energy they had to outlast the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Tiger-Cats in the playoffs, and that left many of them feeling more gratified than they even did in 2019.

“I feel this one is a little more special, just because it was an away game, in Hamilton, hostile territory, against a great team, great organization and we stuck together, battled adversity throughout the whole game,” ultra-popular defensive end Willie Jefferson said. “We were down the whole game, came back, got it to overtime, ended it in overtime and there was no better way to win it than with a defensive stop.”

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Jefferson, with his trademark “Come on down to Winnipeg” phrase, Collaros and Winnipeggers Nic Demski and Andrew Harris were among the players to speak on the podium, taking the mic from legendary announcer Bob Irving, who gets to go off into retirement after calling consecutive championship seasons.

Harris, the 34-year-old future Hall-of-Fame running back who missed most of the season but came back for the playoffs and performed brilliantly, brought the fans back to his stirring pre-game speech in 2019, getting them to echo his calls of ‘You got my back?” with “We got your back.”

Many of the players were still re-living the experience of Sunday’s game one more time before going their separate ways this week.

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“I never played in a game like that ever in my life, a championship game,” said defensive back Winston Rose, who returned to the Bombers from an NFL stint in November and won his second straight Grey Cup.

“That game will go down in my life as the best game I ever played, especially with it being a championship game like that. This one means more than 2019 because we earned it. In 2019, we dominated, but on Sunday, we earned it. That fourth quarter, that overtime, we found a way.

“I love Winnipeg and I hope we can go for a three-peat, man.”

The celebration ended with a thunderous fireworks display and with “We are the Champions” playing over the P.A., as players and fans swayed and sang along.

It’s a song that wasn’t sung by Winnipeg pro sports fans for three decades and has now been an earworm for them for three straight years.

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So much credit has to go to Bombers CEO Wade Miller, Walters, O’Shea, his coaching staff and the group of veteran players who refused to be denied.

Will they all be back? It’s unlikely. Even O’Shea is rumoured to be the target of another team’s affections.

But Winnipeg, it seems, has a special place in all of their hearts.

“This is where a lot of guys want to be,” Jefferson said.

“We built this culture together and a lot of these guys don’t want to leave. These fans don’t want to leave this stadium, the players don’t want to leave this city. They put a lot of hard work and effort into being champions and it’s gonna be hard for anyone to leave.”

The defensive backs group pose for a photo. KEVIN KING/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network
The defensive backs group pose for a photo. KEVIN KING/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network
The defensive backs parade the Grey Cup around IG Field on the back of a truck. KEVIN KING/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network
The defensive backs parade the Grey Cup around IG Field on the back of a truck. KEVIN KING/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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