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June 17, 2019

Matt Nichols: Game Manager

Matt Nichols leaves the field during the first half of CFL action in Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, June 15, 2019. (CFL PHOTO - Jimmy Jeong)

It was white script on a white ball hat, providing an understated brilliance in both the display and the message.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols and defensive end Willie Jefferson met with the media late Monday morning, both decked out in appropriate attire for the start of a bye week.

Jefferson was rocking a ‘Snoopy’ T-shirt, but it was the headgear Nichols was sporting that caught the attention. Written across his white ball hat, also in white, was the message ‘GAME MANAGER.’

“It’s part of my Father’s Day package,” Nichols explained with a grin. “It’s something I think is pretty funny. I like it.”

The ‘Game Manager’ reference comes from a description hung on the veteran Bombers pivot by various members of the media over the last couple of seasons. And it seemingly suggests that Nichols isn’t among the Canadian Football League’s elite quarterbacks, even as he has compiled a 31-15 record as a starter since replacing Drew Willy in late July of 2016 and has a 67-30 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Asked if he took the term as a compliment, Nichols said:

“I think most people don’t mean it as one. But I do. I don’t know… I’m just out here trying to win football games and we’ve done that quite often, so… it’s just funny to me.”

The hat was actually the brainchild of his wife, Ali, who also gave him the same hat, but in black on black.

“It’s my wife’s sense of humour. She loves it,” said Nichols. “I think everyone can kind of figure it out.”

Nichols’ game was hardly understated in last Saturday’s season-opening win over the B.C. Lions. He completed 21 of 33 passes for 184 yards with three touchdown passes – two to Drew Wolitarsky, a third to Darvin Adams – against zero interceptions as part of a balanced Bomber attack that also cranked out 170 yards rushing for 348 yards in net offence.

It was reminiscent of the Nichols of 2017, a year in which he threw for a career best 4,472 yards with a sparking TD:interception ratio of 28:8. He also showcased another layer to his game that was hampered by his recovery from a knee injury suffered at the start of 2018, flashing mobility to get outside the pocket and throw touchdown strikes to Adams and Wolitarsky.

“That’s the plan,” said Nichols. “I’ve talked about it extensively… there was a part of my game there that I think could help this offence and I worked extremely hard this offseason in making sure I could put myself and this team in a better position with my ability to move around a little bit more. It’s nice to see that show up Week 1 and it’s what I want to continue to do. The initial reads weren’t there and when they took things away I was able to escape and our receivers did a great job of just finding open spots in the end zone and it’s a big reason why we’re scoring touchdowns instead of field goals. It’s something we practised a lot… work on those scrambling drills and finding spots and getting on the same page. We were able to do that.

“It just puts more pressure on a defence. It’s just something else they have to plan for and it will be able to open up everything else for us, too.”