BLUE REVIEW: The glory days of Bombers football are upon us after second straight Grey Cup win

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HAMILTON — For so many long-time fans and observers of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Sunday’s stirring Grey Cup win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats produced a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

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For the first time in 59 years, the Bombers are champions in back-to-back seasons.

Just let that sink in for a moment and realize just how special these last two CFL seasons have been for the Bombers and their fans.

After waiting 29 years, between 1990 and 2019, for even one championship, the people of Winnipeg are now enjoying being at the pinnacle of Canadian football for a third straight year.

Because the 2020 season was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bombers got a two-years-for-one deal after beating the Tiger-Cats in 2019.

“It only goes to show what we’re made of,” receiver Darvin Adams said. “Nobody lost faith on our sideline and that’s how we won.”

Then came a 2021 season in which the Bombers dominated the league for months and then had to overcome some significant adversity to win in the post-season.

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But win they did, and it’s the first time since 1961-62 that the Bombers have repeated as CFL champions.

“This is just an unbelievable organization,” Bombers’ quarterback Zach Collaros said. “These are unbelievable people to work with. It’s so much fun to win with these people.”

What was most remarkable about the playoffs was that the Bombers weren’t anywhere near as dominant as they were in the regular season. They were making mistakes, falling behind on the scoreboard and having to make second-half comebacks.

They committed six turnovers and barely held off the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West Final on Dec. 5 in Winnipeg and then fell behind by 12 points in the fourth quarter against the Tiger-Cats, in Hamilton, on Sunday.

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In a comeback that will be remembered for the ages, the Bombers roared back to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, saw the Tiger-Cats make their own comeback to force overtime, and then won it by getting a touchdown from receiver Darvin Adams and a game-sealing interception from linebacker Kyrie Wilson.

“It looked bleak for us but my guys, man, they rise,” halfback Nick Taylor said during the on-field celebration. “You’ve got to beat us all four quarters and even overtime and we know we’re gonna compete the whole game. We’re not gonna hand it to you. You’ve got to earn it.”

The Bombers overcame three turnovers, including two interceptions thrown by quarterback Zach Collaros, and willed their way to victory, with some help from a Ticats team that made a crucial mistake, at a crucial time, to submarine its own chances.

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Collaros was awful in the first half, completing only six passes for 62 yards, but bounced back to throw two touchdown passes — one in the fourth quarter and one in overtime — to capture Grey Cup most valuable player honours.

Also named the most outstanding player in the league in 2021, Collaros is approaching legendary status now that he has a 17-2 record as the Bombers’ starter.

He had a brilliant season, but he was very human in the playoffs and the Bombers needed to dig deep to stage their comeback. Fortunately, Collaros had a lot of teammates to pick him up.

“I knew we were gonna get the W because I knew we weren’t gonna let them score in overtime,” Bombers defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said.

“Obviously you saw what happened. We got the W. The (Tiger-Cats) wanted to make it a thrilling game so we made it a thrilling game but we capped it off like we were supposed to.”

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Back to that Tiger-Cats mistake.

For some inexplicable reason, kick returner Tim White chose to give up a single on a Bombers kickoff, despite having no tacklers anywhere near him, late in the fourth quarter. He surely could have run out to the 20- or 30-yard line, at least, but chose to give up the point, in order to get field position, against the wind, at the Hamilton 35. That gave the Bombers a 25-22 lead with less than two minutes to play.

Both Hamilton coach Orlondo Steinauer and Bombers coach Mike O’Shea said White did the right thing, but it proved to be so costly, as the Tiger-Cats put together a great drive and got a field goal to tie the game. Without that conceded single point, the Tiger-Cats would have won the Grey Cup.

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Instead, they lost in overtime and it’s almost incredible that such a thing could happen.

That set the stage for the dramatics in overtime and another wild, on-field, post-game celebration for the Bombers and their families — and, of course, the Grey Cup itself.

“We’re behind enemy lines, fans on our backs, city against us and we had to come out here and show these guys who we are,” Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson said. “If it had to go into overtime to do that, that’s where we did it. It was tense, but we just had to stick it out. I had no doubt at all.”

What a moment that was, one that will go down as one of the most memorable in Winnipeg’s sports history.

Those are the moments athletes, coaches and fans live for and they’re even more special when they happen two years in a row.

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The Bombers will celebrate their win with the fans on Wednesday night at IG Field (6 p.m.) and one can only imagine what a love fest that will be. There will be no championship parade this year due to provincial COVID-19 regulations.

For now, let’s take a look at some of the unsung heroes who helped make it all happen in Sunday’s epic CFL season finale.

SERGIO CASTILLO

All season long, the Bombers struggled to find consistency in their kicking game and it took until November to finally get a competent player on the job.

A trade for Castillo looks brilliant now after he went 5-for-5 on field goals, kicked a convert and booted two very important singles on kickoffs as the Bombers came back to win.

I had Castillo as the Grey Cup MVP on my ballot.

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WINSTON ROSE

Rose arrived at the same time as Castillo, signing a free-agent deal after spending the better part of two years in the NFL.

Rose immediately resumed his role as the team’s starting boundary cornerback and he came up huge in the Grey Cup, making a solo tackle on Hamilton quarterback Jeremiah Masoli to force a turnover on downs and then providing the assist on Wilson’s walk-off interception.

The game ended when Masoli’s overtime pass bounced off the hands of Deatrick Nichols and fell to Rose, who kept it alive by shovelling it to Wilson for the interception.

I can’t think of many more memorable defensive plays to win a championship game.

DEATRICK NICHOLS

The first-year Bombers’ halfback made a massive play in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter to keep Hamilton from winning the game in regulation time. Masoli was looking for Jaelon Acklin, but Nichols got a hand on the ball and prevented the Ticats’ receiver from making the catch. He also got an assist on the game-sealing pick, capping an impressive, all-star, season.

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THE COIN TOSS

It happened before the game even started but it has as much impact as any play. The Bombers called heads and won the toss and head coach Mike O’Shea chose to defer his choice to the second half, hoping to take advantage of a strong wind in the fourth quarter.

The Bombers did exactly that, scoring 15 points with the wind in the fourth quarter to get the game into overtime.

JAKE THOMAS

I had the longest-serving Bombers player on my most valuable Canadian ballot. The defensive tackle recorded four tackles and had a quarterback sack and was a force all game. Ultimately the Canadian MVP nod went to receiver Nic Demski, who scored a beauty of a touchdown, but Thomas had a big overall impact as well.

THE RECEIVERS

Veteran Darvin Adams, who caught just 26 passes during the regular season, had five catches for 61 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

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Rasheed Bailey had three catches for 60 yards and caught a pass for a two-point convert in overtime. Kenny Lawler had three catches for 41 yards, Drew Wolitarsky four for 44, and Demski four for 27 and a touchdown. Overall, this group was terrific on Grey Cup Sunday.

“All of us are playmakers, so it was only a matter of time,” Adams said. “We never quit and we’ve got so many guys who can make plays and do their part.”

ALDEN DARBY

The dime back, who was acquired in a trade with Toronto during training camp, had an all-star season and was terrific on Sunday, coming with an interception, after a great deflection by Willie Jefferson, and finishing with a team-high six tackles and a pass knockdown.

STANLEY BRYANT

The veteran offensive lineman was the first player to receiver the Grey Cup, as the elder statesman on the team.

“Great feeling man,” Bryant said. “That’s my first time even touching the Cup and it’s my third Grey Cup ring. It was special man, but it’s even more special with this group of guys. Everybody bought in.”

Bryant, 35, was named the CFL’s most outstanding offensive lineman for a record third time last Friday and on Sunday he made it three Grey Cup wins in his illustrious career.

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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