Bombers, Elks throw support behind Indigenous people … Lawler mid-season suspension eerily familiar… it’s next man up in receiving corps

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Four key Blue Bombers, all decked out in orange. What’s this, a blockbuster trade with the B.C. Lions?

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No, it was just a preview of what will be a CFL first this weekend: opposing teams wearing the same jerseys on a game day.

Jake Thomas, Jackson Jeffcoat, Stanley Bryant and Mike Miller on Monday wore orange jerseys at a news conference to promote the Bombers’ latest effort toward truth and reconciliation with the Indigenous community.

This Friday, all their teammates and the Edmonton Elks will wear them for the pre-game warm-up, a show of unity before they meet in a heated West Division tilt.

There will be 1,000 people in the stands from Indigenous communities, many flown in from remote areas for their first pro football game.

It’s the latest chapter of a story that began four years ago, when the Bombers and Exchange Income Corporation, which operates airlines that serve The North, like Calm Air and Perimeter Airlines, began flying in up to 40 people for home games.

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“This year it was, ‘Hey, let’s do this bigger,’” Bombers CEO Wade Miller said. “The logistics of this are crazy. It’s pretty impressive what EIC and all their airlines are pulling off.”

Miller is proud the Bombers are part of another first. They’ve been at this for a while, now.

In 2015, they began to acknowledge the land they’re on originally belonged to the Indigenous, believed to be the first professional sports organization in North America to do so.

To kick off the Canadian Premier League soccer season — the Bombers operate Valour FC — the organization acknowledged what happened in residential schools, and held a private flag-raising with Indigenous leaders.

Lighting up the faces of hundreds of kids every year, kids who may never have met a Blue Bomber or set foot in the stadium, is the immediate payoff.

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Raising awareness of the horrors of the residential school system and the generational price that’s still being paid by survivors and their families is the longer-term benefit of orange jersey day.

“I haven’t seen ’em,” running back Andrew Harris said. “But anytime we’re paying tribute or honouring something as important as this, I’m definitely on board for it. Just honouring a tragic event and bringing awareness to it.”

“It’s the right thing to do,” Miller added. “And we’ve got that ability to do it.”

Deju Blue

For the second straight season, a high-flying Bomber team has been rocked by the suspension of a top player, mid-season.

Receiver Kenny Lawler’s impaired driving incident recalls Harris’ failed drug test halfway through the 2019 season, a development that cost the star running back two games.

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“Things happen,” Harris said. “This is why you have brothers and teammates and family. We stick together and we have Kenny’s back. Understanding that people make mistakes, and he’s remorseful. It’s a non-issue for us now.”

Harris has a pretty good idea of how Lawler feels: he’s let down his teammates, his coaches and the community. He knows first-hand it’s not an easy thing to bounce back from.

“Hopefully this doesn’t affect when he comes back and he can move on from this, as well,” Harris said. “That’s one of the hardest parts, is when you get to the lineup after being out for something … it might have an impact on your emotions. You’ve just got to check those emotions and realize you’ve still got a job to do and come out and execute.”

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The Bombers didn’t let Harris’ suspension derail them in 2019, and they don’t expect Lawler’s to now.

“It’s always a blow when you lose one of your main guys,” linebacker Adam Bighill said. “So you’ve got to come to grips with that. And then it’s who’s going to step up and replace what Andrew did or what Kenny’s done? And we try to bring in the right people in this organization to be able to fill in and be ready to play.”

Head coach Mike O’Shea says based on what he saw Monday, he’s not concerned about the distraction affecting his first-place team.

“The way practice was today, I believe the players are certainly focused,” O’Shea said.

Quarterback Zach Collaros credited the abundance of veterans.

“We have a pretty mature group of guys in the locker-room on all three sides of the football,” Collaros said. “A lot of leadership.”

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Who’ll step in?

As for his lineup options with Lawler and possibly receiver Drew Wolitarsky out, too — he was hurt in B.C. and didn’t practice Monday — O’Shea was his usual coy self.

“A plethora of players, ready and willing and able to jump in and perform and help us win,” he said.

One of those is CFL vet Namaan Roosevelt, waiting patiently since signing with Winnipeg in late August.

Monday’s practice was closed, so who worked with the starting offence is unknown.

Collaros acknowledged how good Lawler has become at fighting for deep balls.

But he says Darvin Adams is no slouch in that department, either.

“I can remember for years and years watching him here run by and catch post patterns,” Collaros said. “I can remember last season in the playoff run how many long passes he caught down the sideline in Saskatchewan and Calgary, and going up and taking the football away from guys. Obviously Kenny’s really good at it. But Darvin’s been doing it for a long time.”

pfriesen@postmedia.com

Twitter: @friesensunmedia

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