Thanksgiving traditionally represents one of the signpost moments on the Canadian Football League calendar, along with the season openers, the Labour Day weekend and the November playoff push to the Grey Cup.
We’re not bringing this up today to pick at an open wound for CFL fans – we will, however, point out the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were scheduled to be home to Edmonton on Friday in their 15th game of the season – but instead step back for a bigger-picture take.
I know I’ve needed that kind of perspective often lately and rather than lamenting the season being cancelled, work to greater appreciate some of the people around me and the moments we have together. Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea helped with that in last week’s column and this week we checked in with middle linebacker Adam Bighill.
A husband, a father of three and a man who has fought his own share of battles to become a CFL all-star and future hall of famer, we caught Bighill earlier this week as he was driving to watch swimming lessons for A.J., who turns four next month, and three-year-old Leah. His youngest son, Beau, just turned one and has already had two surgeries after being born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate – the same condition he was born with almost 32 years ago.
“Everything went really, really well with his surgeries,” said Bighill. “The doctor is happy with the procedures and he’s doing fantastic. Eventually he’ll have at least one more surgery, which will be a bone graft, but that won’t be until he’s around six or eight years old and there’s the potential for revisions to be done, but those are on a case-by-case basis. So, we’ll see what the future holds but as of right now he’s doing extremely well.
“Every year it’s important to be thankful for the things we have. I think about Beau… he’s a healthy boy. So many people don’t have healthy children. I’ve seen and visited those kids at the hospital. Those are tough times, but they help put things into perspective.”
View this post on Instagram
✨ World Smile Day ✨ . How lucky we are that we got to fall in love with two of your perfect smiles ❤️ May your smile and your story change the world! . . . @bighilla44 #worldsmileday #cleftstrong #cleftproud #1in700 #cleftcutie
A post shared by KRISTINA BIGHILL (@kristinabighill) on
Bighill and his wife Kristina live in Winnipeg year-round. He’s working as an investment advisor with Wellington-Altus Private Wealth, is a board member for Making Faces – a Canadian-based charity that hosts free workshops for kids with facial differences – and has his own website dedicated to helping athletes improve their speed.
In short, he’s not the type to stand still, even during a global pandemic.
“We are fortunate to be in the position we are. Healthy family and I’m thankful I have another career I can focus on and didn’t have to scramble to find something,” said Bighill. “I know a lot of people are missing CFL football for a lot of reasons. Obviously, for the players this is their livelihood and this is how they take care of their families.
“But in general, there are so many people struggling all across the world… COVID really has affected everybody. For a lot of people this will be the toughest year of their life. It’s unprecedented for sure and something we’re all dealing with. All we can do is keep battling through it.”
More Blue Bombers and CFL-related links, notes and quotes in this week’s edition of First & 10…
1. A week ago I was flipping through the channels and came across the Texas-TCU showdown in which the Horned Frogs held on to a 33-31 victory over the Longhorns thanks, in large part, to a goal-line stand with under three minutes to play.
Watching Texas give away the victory – that goal-line stand featured a fumble by the Longhorns’ running back at the TCU one-yard line – made me think of Bombers’ defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. Jeffcoat, you see, is a Longhorn legend and was a consensus All-American and winner of the Ted Hendricks Award as the top defensive end in college football during his senior season.
The loss was crippling to Texas, but this weekend’s 53-45 loss to the Oklahoma Sooners in the annual Red River Showdown – a game that took four overtime periods and was simply sensational – had to be absolutely crushing.
We spoke to Jeffcoat earlier in the week before the game and he explained the magnitude of the Red River Showdown and the rivalry.
“Man, this rivalry is humongous,” began Jeffcoat. “Not this year, but most years this game tells you who is going to win the Big 12. It’s the biggest hurdle of the year and if you win that you have so much momentum.
“It’s a big rivalry between bordering states. It’s like Manitoba vs. Saskatchewan, two bordering provinces. You guys are a little more friendly about it, but Texas makes jokes about Oklahoma all the time and Oklahoma makes jokes about Texas all the time. Most of the guys on Oklahoma’s team are from Texas… it’s just a bitter rivalry.”
The game is always played in Dallas at the Cotton Bowl – a neutral site, given the U of T is in Austin and Oklahoma is in Norman – with the fans split 50-50.
“This rivalry is in my household,” added Jeffcoat. “My twin sister went to Oklahoma for two years. It hits home for me. It’s real big for me because they were the top two schools I was looking at in high school and I ended up choosing Texas.
“The thing about those Texas-OU games is you’re playing for a thing called ‘The Golden Hat’ – it’s for bragging rights for the year because you’re going to hear Oklahoma fans talking smack all year if you lose. And if we win, we are able to talk smack all year. And when you win the Golden Hat, it’s like winning the Banjo Bowl. It stays with you. It means you’re the best, the state is the best. It’s big.”
2. A couple more notes from Jeffcoat… He hopes to be taking the exam for his real estate license in the next week or so but, like many players, still has his down moments about the 2020 CFL season being wiped out.
“It’s a little weird, a little frustrating because we were in limbo for so long and then it just didn’t happen when the funding got denied,” he said. “That was tough.”
He did get his Grey Cup ring recently, though, and plans on spending Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in Dallas where he hopes to flash his new bling to his father, Cowboys legend and two-time Super-Bowl champion Jim Jeffcoat.
“Now I can at least talk some smack about it with my dad because I’ve got a championship under my belt, too,” said Jeffcoat with a chuckle. “We can now compare our rings. The Grey Cup ring is amazing. It really is amazing. I’m cherishing it.”
3. Interesting list released this week by the CFL Scouting Bureau on the Top 20 prospects for the 2021 draft. It’s interesting in that the entire Top 10 features players from NCAA schools, with the first U Sports player being Montreal offensive lineman Pier-Olivier Lestage. Of the Top 20, 14 are players in the U.S. – not surprising considering both the talent level but especially because U Sports football was shut down this year due to COVID-19.
It’s also interesting to see not a single Manitoban or a member of the football factory that is the Manitoba Bisons on that list, although that could change before the names are called out next spring.
TSN’s Farhal Lalji and Duane Forde offer their takes on the Scouting Bureau rankings, here, FYI. And in case you missed it, Bombers GM Kyle Walters spoke on how the CFL Draft might be impacted in in this piece.
4. Let it be said again that Bombers receiver Rasheed Bailey surely doesn’t lack passion and intensity. Now he’s put that to music and video. Check this tease for a release coming soon:
My First Feature 🙏🏽 They Gotta Feel This One @FreshhPrince5
That Pain Runs So Deep We Had To Put It In A Song . Excited To Release This Preview Full Video Dropping Soon . 🖤🔥 Show Love. 📸: #RighteousProductions #PainGuidance
Artist: @FreshhPrince5 pic.twitter.com/RnhVMUhQYd
— Rasheed Bailey (@ShowTimeSheed) October 7, 2020
5. Scenes and stories we never get tired of – Bombers players finally getting their mitts on their 2019 Grey Cup rings.
— Winnipeg Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) October 6, 2020
View this post on Instagram
The when the lights are off in the stadium, the fans are gone & you take a moment to realize that everything you set out for yourself to accomplish … you just did. ⚡️💍 This ring is a representation of brotherhood, hard work, dedication, respect, love for the game & most of all for the young Lucky who had no idea the journey he would go on! #CreateU #Luck2Fast #Cfl #HowICfl #FortheW #SE7EN #Speed #Nfl #Playmaker #GameChanger #PhenomElite #FreeGame #FreeAgent #Football #Champs #Champions #Blessed
A post shared by Lucky Whitehead (@luck2fast) on
6. Another shoutout this week to Donnovan Bennett and ‘The Waggle’ podcast on CFL.ca. This week Bennett and co-host Manny Arceneaux of the B.C. Lions discussed ‘The Art of Being a Flashy Receiver.’
Naturally, they had to begin with Milt Stegall and Robert ‘Flash’ Gordon and the Bombers group from the early 2000s that also included, at various times, Geroy Simon, Arland Bruce III, Albert Johnson III, Jamie Stoddard and Markus Howell among others.
Milt talked about starting the TD dances that became part of the team’s trademark during those years: “I started before dancing before that crew got together. Robert got there in ’99, but I started dancing back in ’96 and ’97 with a good buddy of mine who played on the defensive side in Shannon Garrett. I would score a touchdown and Shannon would run on the field and we would do something in the end zone.
“But when Robert got there in ’99 and Geroy and those guys that’s when we really started putting it together as a group. It was just something I decided on… let’s have some fun, let’s go out there and dance.”
One more from Stegall and Gordon… happy to hear them give a shoutout to Jamie Stoddard, when asked to name a receiver they played with who didn’t get the recognition they deserved.
Stoddard was an underrated, undrafted Canadian who was hardly the fastest guy on those Bombers teams, but had spectacular hands.
“This man only had one gear to start,” said Stegall, “but any time a receiver got hurt, Jamie Stoddard stepped in and did a great job. He was a great special teams player, he held on field goals… he did so much for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers he deserved a lot more credit than what he received.”
“He came in at a young age and he didn’t miss a beat, he picked it up,” added Gordon. “He’s a Canadian kid who didn’t wear sleeves in the cold. He was a great guy to be around who was like a veteran right away.”
Darren Cameron and I co-hosted another Bombers ‘Handled Internally Podcast’ this week with one of the most-decorated and arguably one of the funniest players in franchise history in hall of famer Chris Walby.
Just a couple laughs shared between these three 😆
— Winnipeg Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) October 7, 2020
We went for over 80 minutes, FYI, and we could have recorded a couple more episodes because the time absolutely flew.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t share at least one Walby story as a tease to the upcoming storyteller. He told a ton of stories, including his days with the Kildonan North Stars in junior hockey, to being cut by the Winnipeg Hawkeyes football team, through his sensational run with the Bombers as the most dominant O-lineman in CFL history.
He started out as a draft pick with the Montreal Alouettes before he landed in Winnipeg – he retells that story on the podcast, too – but also relived his first experiences in La Belle Province.
“I was with one of the craziest cats you ever met, Junior Ah You,” Walby recalled. “The legend. He would do his Hawaiian Samoan dance, swinging his sword in the locker room. He had no pupils… he looked like a shark. I was terrified of him.
“When I would walk by him in the locker room I would have my wallet ready in case he wanted it. ‘Take the money, I’m OK, man. I can take transit.’ He was crazy. There was him, Glen ‘Fuzzy’ Weir, (James) Scott… Vince Ferragamo, Billy ‘White Shoes’ Johnson and Tommy Cousineau. Cousineau was the only guy I knew who got hurt in practice and then flies to frickin’ Hawaii and has them mail game cheques to him. We had 10 guys who had guaranteed contracts.
“… We used to walk behind Tommy because the girls would get crazy and all be screaming, ‘Tommy!’ We’d be pretending they’d be yelling our name. ‘Hey, how about the fat guys behind him, eh?’”
Stay tuned for that episode.
10. And, finally, cool story by Kristina Costabile of CFL.ca on five memorable October games in the last four years, including the Bombers’ 40-32 win in Ottawa on October 5, 2018.
For what it’s worth, two Thanksgiving Weekend Bomber games that stand out for me were Milt Stegall’s four touchdown effort in a 2005 win over B.C. in which the legend finished with 234 yards receiving and then this absolutely nutty game from 2010:
Watching that video makes me again curse at what we’ve lost with the cancellation of the CFL season, but also looking forward to when we can all gather again for moments like that.
Happy Thanksgiving, Bombers fans.