December 22, 2018

Year in Review | #2 The Biggie Impact

A scene, from the Touchdown Manitoba party during Grey Cup week in Edmonton in late November…

There was Adam Bighill, his wife Kristina just a few feet away, smiling and posing for pictures, signing jerseys, slapping backs and shaking hands with fans eager to just be in the presence of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers middle linebacker and the Canadian Football League’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player.

That scene, it’s worth noting, played out over the better part of two hours as a long line of fans patiently waited for their turn in the procession.

Let it be said that it didn’t take long for Bighill to make an impression on Bomber faithful dating back to his signing in late May. And the impact he made on the fan base and the defence was so indelible the work of the veteran linebacker comes in at #2 on our Year in Review series.

Timing is everything, as they say, and it turns out mid-May provided a perfect confluence of events for a Bighill/Bombers marriage. A long-time member of the B.C. Lions, Bighill spent the 2017 season in the National Football League with the New Orleans Saints.

But when he was released in May, the Lions were already backed up against the salary cap and so the return to B.C. wasn’t the slam dunk many had predicted. Instead, the Bombers came courting, and by the end of the 2018 campaign, the addition of Bighill was arguably the most impactful free-agent signing by any team in the CFL.

And his addition created an instant buzz upon his arrival in Winnipeg.

“He’s a great asset for us. He’s a guy who practises hard,” said Bombers running back and long-time Lions teammate Andrew Harris, upon Bighill’s arrival. “I mean, I remember my first year when he came into B.C…. he was almost annoying to practice against because he was one of those guys that is just scrappy. He’s going to find a way to give you a charley horse or poke you in the eye or step on your feet because he just goes so hard. He talks about being a savage and he’s absolutely a savage.”

That was evident on almost every defensive snap in 2018, but highlighted by plays like a Pick-6 against his old club in July, a forced fumble in an OT win over Ottawa, a three-sack performance in a shutout of Saskatchewan in October – all part of a dominant season in which he registered 105 tackles, two interceptions, four sacks and four forced fumbles.

In short, he didn’t just add to the Bombers defence, he helped transform it.

“I’ve known him for a week and I will say this about him: natural-born leader,” said cornerback Chris Randle back in training camp. “He has my attention. He already had the respect of all of his teammates because of his reputation on the field. And off the field, he’s very easy to talk to. We all have the same goal and when you have that, it’s easier to come in and lead. He’s familiar with our playbook already and we’ll follow his lead. He’s going to be the general.”

There’s also an inspirational component to Bighill’s story that makes it all that much more compelling and helps endear him to the fan base. He’s not a big man – listed at 5-10 and weighing 230 – and he was born with a cleft-lip and palate. All of that is part of what makes up a competitive drive that just keeps churning.

“I’ve been through a lot to get here,” began Bighill in a chat with during Grey Cup week. “It’s a hard thing to quantify, but it’s probably more than your average person. You know, you grow up and all you hear is that you’re not tall enough, that your arms aren’t long enough, that you’re not big enough, that you went to too small of a school, that you can’t play D-1 college football, that you can’t play professionally. So many people doubt you and what you can do.

“But they can’t measure your heart. I’ve always felt that’s what is different about me: it’s what I’m willing to do to be successful. A lot of people just simply aren’t willing to do it. I am.”

The big question for the Bombers as the calendar soon turns to 2019 is whether Bighill will be back to patrol the middle of the defence next season. He is a pending free agent and GM Kyle Walters has made no secret of his desire to get the all-star linebacker back in blue and gold.

He’s also got another huge fan who understands his impact more than any other: head coach Mike O’Shea was a hall-of-fame middle linebacker himself back in the day. Interestingly, after one of Bighill’s many dominant performances this year, O’Shea was asked if he was running out of adjectives to describe the all-star linebacker. O’Shea chucked before adding: “It’s a big dictionary.”

This is the ninth installment of a series recapping the Top 10 Bomber stories of 2018.

Next: #1 – A Playoff ‘W’