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December 28, 2019

Year in Review | Andrew Harris: Disappointment and Glory

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Andrew Harris celebrates his touchdown against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during the first half of the 107th Grey Cup in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, November 24, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Ed Tait takes a look back at the 2019 Blue Bombers season with his Top 10 stories of the year…


#4 ANDREW HARRIS: DISAPPOINTMENT AND GLORY

Three of the lasting images of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 2019 season – and there were many – understandably came in those moments/hours after the 107th Grey Cup victory.

There was Andrew Harris, the face of the franchise, on stage holding the Grey Cup aloft as blue and yellow confetti fell all around him. Just a few moments before that, there was Harris clutching both the Grey Cup MVP and Most Valuable Canadian trophies after arguably the greatest game of his distinguished career.

And then a couple of days later, during the Grey Cup parade that snaked through downtown Winnipeg to The Forks, it was Harris again taking centre stage as the local product drew the loudest cheers.

“It’s tough to find words,” said Harris after the parade. “Today it finally sunk in. We got on the bus and pulled up and I was anxious to get going. Then we started going down Portage and you see fan after fan after fan… that’s when it sunk in for me.”

“It’s been an amazing journey and an amazing ride. To set out a goal and have a vision and to accomplish it all… it’s pretty damn amazing. The whole thing today was insane. There’s been a lot of support through all the things I’ve been through and to be here as a hometown guy, it’s an amazing accomplishment.

“But this is for the city. People are saying ‘Congratulations!’ to me. Man, congratulations to everyone. This isn’t a me thing or a team thing, this is a Winnipeg thing. This is a Manitoba thing. This is as much their championship as it is ours.”

Those three scenes capped what could best be described as a spectacular-yet-tumultuous season for the veteran running back, who experienced some of the most extreme personal highs and lows imaginable over a four-month span.

Harris was doing his usual thing during the summer – leading the league in rushing – while moving past Normie Kwong to become the CFL’s all-time leader among Canadians in yards from scrimmage and at the same time rocketing up the Top 10 rushing chart, when he was hit with devastating news.

On August 26th the CFL announced that he had tested positive for trace amounts of the steroid Metandienone and would be suspended for two games. It was a crushing blow for Harris – who had been tested two previous times before without any traces of the performance enhancing drug being found – and came at a time when the club was cruising with an 8-2 record.

But it also put a stain on his legacy. Harris, defiant and emotional at the press conference announcing the suspension, stated the product he took — a men’s energy, anti-oxidant, multi-vitamin supplement with natural testosterone enhancers he purchased at a local store – indicated it contained ‘all-natural ingredients.’

“It’s been devastating,” he said. “It’s been hard to focus on football and hard to come in after winning a game and be thinking about what’s going to happen in a couple of days or possibly next week and how it’s going to affect my team.

“I don’t want to be a distraction. I would never want to put my team in jeopardy, myself in jeopardy or my career. At this point now I have to face the music and move on.

“(Sunday) I addressed the team and that was the hardest part. You put a lot of energy, effort and a lot of hours in with these guys and you become a family and you never want to let a family member down. When I addressed the team, that was the feeling in my stomach.”

Harris returned to the lineup following the Banjo Bowl and played with an even greater conviction. He had 188 yards from scrimmage in a loss to Montreal, then had a career-best 166 yards rushing a couple weeks later against the Alouettes.

Over the last nine games – including the playoffs – he had 704 yards rushing and added 33 receptions for 245 yards, capped by his performance in the Grey Cup, which saw him rush for 134 yards and a score and pull in five passes for another 35 yards and a TD en route to the double-MVP honours.

Along the way he was shut out of Winnipeg team awards by the voting local media, and was named a West Division All-Star, but not a CFL All-Star after capturing his third consecutive rushing title – a first for a Bombers player.

But the sting of that – some, not all – was certainly lessened by his memorable November in which he helped bring the Grey Cup back to his hometown.

“It’s a dream come true,” Harris said on Grey Cup Sunday. “When you set goals and you have a plan and you envision things and when it comes true it’s amazing how you put all that together and accomplish your dreams and goals.

“There’s been a lot of negative attention about everything that’s gone on. For me to accomplish that… that’s for everyone that wrote an article or said something on Twitter or said something to anyone.

“I just wanted to come out here and play my best game. I was able to do that today. I’m just proud of my teammates for supporting me and my friends and family. This is a big game for me and I was able to play my best.”


This is the seventh in a series recapping the Top 10 Bomber stories of 2019.
Next: #3 – SLAYING A DRAGON IN CALGARY

Previously:
#5 – C’MON DOWN TO WINNIPEG, WILLIE
#6 – THE COLLAROS TRADE: UNEARTHING GOLD AT THE DEADLINE
#7 – STABILITY… AND CHANGE
#8 – ADVERSITY HITS
#9 – BURSTING OUT OF THE STARTING BLOCKS
#10 – RELOADING AFTER 2018