Luck in a truck: Blue-collar Bombers earn every piece

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It’s hard to put into words what the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have accomplished these last two CFL seasons.

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It’s equally difficult to put into words what they did on Sunday.

What was a bottom-rung franchise that went 28 years without a championship, losing five straight Grey Cup games along the way, won its second straight title in Hamilton.

That’s as unlikely to this veteran observer as Sunday’s comeback seemed when the Bombers trailed, 22-10, early in the fourth quarter.

The line between winning and losing the 108th Grey Cup was as fine as the edge of a razor blade.

The Bombers walked it, but it was the Tiger-Cats who were left bloodied.

Whenever games are that hotly-contested by teams that are highly motivated, there’s always an element of luck involved.

But teams make their luck, too. They earn it. At the very least, they put themselves in a position to pounce on it when it shows up.

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When it comes to Mike O’Shea’s Bombers, it never arrives gift-wrapped in the back of a limousine. It’s hauled in the bed of a pickup, and takes considerable effort to unload.

On Sunday it came in many forms, including a Deatrick Nichols’ fingertip.

Some would argue the Bombers were lucky Hamilton receiver Jaelon Acklin didn’t hang onto the pass that would have been the winning touchdown with seconds left in the fourth quarter.

But Nichols, and his finger, were exactly where Winnipeg’s destiny needed him to be.

Nichols was in on another stroke of “luck” in overtime, the last pass of the game hitting him in the hands, only to go through them – with Acklin right there.

For a split-second, it was a flashback to the last drive of the 2019 West Final in Regina, when Marcus Sayles let a sure interception slip through his hands and into the arms of Riders receiver Kyran Moore.

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Only this time the next player to touch it was Winnipeg’s Winston Rose, who reached down and scooped it up as if he were digging a spiked volleyball – straight into the arms of teammate Kyrie Wilson.

Wilson fell to his knees, protecting it like it was his own newborn, cutting the cord on a 33-25 win.

“I saw one of my boys had it,” Willie Jefferson said during the on-field celebration later. “I saw him tippin’ it, and I saw another one of my boys go get it. The whole time I was just thinkin’, ‘Knock it down, catch it, fall, win it.’ And then when I seen one of my boys fall down with it, man, it was ball game.”

A fluky bounce, or something more?

“That’s a testament to the way our guys get to the ball,” defensive backs coach Jordan Younger said. “Everybody was running to the ball, and what you see is just that effort, culminating in a game-winning interception. Everybody’s playing for the man next to them. Playing with great effort. Not taking anything for granted.”

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You could stick a “lucky” label on Winnipeg’s two single points on kickoffs, one that glanced off a Ticats returner, the other conceded with 1:52 left, which meant Hamilton’s field goal with seconds left in regulation would tie the game instead of win it.

You could also point to the late-season signing of kicker Sergio Castillo and his five-for-five performance on Sunday as a Hail Mary that landed in the right hands.

The Bombers’ biggest weakness all season turned out to be a critical asset.

“Exactly a year ago I was playing with the (New York) Jets and it was my last game because I went one-for-four,” Castillo said. “And here we are a year later, carrying the Grey Cup.”

A leg-stroke of luck, or a man overcoming adversity to make himself better, just in case destiny came knocking?

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“When something bad happens, get back on the horse, get back in the saddle, and keep on working hard,” the kicker said. “Just finding ways to believe in yourself, mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally, keep finding ways to improve in those areas and that’s what I did. I was very fortunate (the Bombers) believed in me to bring me in this late.

“The way it played out, it couldn’t be any more perfect.”

Even in all its imperfection.

“It’s always sweet to come from behind,” Jefferson said.

Especially with most of the crowd against you.

“This atmosphere was insane, second to none,” O-lineman Pat Neufeld said, bear-hugging several family members from Saskatchewan decked out in his No. 53. “We just found a way. We just dug and scratched and clawed and found a way. I’m just so, so proud of this team.

“I’m lost for words, man. It’s just the best feeling I could ever have.”
It felt like it was earned. Unloaded from the back of the truck, one heavy piece at a time.

“This is what we worked for for the last six months,” D-lineman Jake Thomas said. “What a lot of guys have worked for since they were nine years old.

“It’s an indescribable feeling.”

pfriesen@postmedia.com

Twitter: @friesensunmedia

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