Winnipeg Blue Bombers players celebrate with fans after beating Calgary Stampeders during CFL Western Semi-Final action in Calgary, on Sunday, November 10, 2019. (CFL PHOTO - DAVE CHIDLEY)
Give TSN an ‘A’ for their day-long bill of old Canadian Football League Thanksgiving games last Monday.
Included in that run were two Winnipeg Blue Bombers affairs – Thanksgiving Day matchups with the Alouettes in Montreal from 2012 and 2013. Two things struck me from watching those games again. First, it’s more than a little odd that the Bombers went just 9-27 over those two seasons but won both Thanksgiving weekend visits to Montreal.
In the first, the Bombers won their first road game of the 2012 season – remember, it was October – as Joey Elliott out-duelled Anthony Calvillo. And a year later Max Hall earned his first win for a truly awful Bombers squad that beat a just slightly better Alouettes outfit that was led that day by Josh Neiswander.
So, yeah, it was hardly billed as one of those classic CFL matchups between two star quarterbacks.
The second thing that jumped out from the TV screen was simply seeing fans in the stands, with both games played in front of near-capacity crowds at Molson Stadium. And that’s no small thing given what we’ve seen unfold in the sports world dating back to last March.
I know some fans have suggested they have enjoyed watching games being played inside the bubble, what with the lack of crowds allowing us the chance to hear the interactions between players, officials and coaches on the ice, on the court or on the field. The novelty of that, from this perch at least, lasted all of one quarter, one period, or one inning.
Many of us watch sport for the entertainment value and for the escape it provides. But it’s a much more fulfilling experience if we do that with fans all around us – even the annoying ones. And the further that fades, the more I find myself craving it again.
I miss being in the press box at Bombers games and hearing stadium announcer Bob McGregor tee up things with ‘And that’s another Winnipeg…’ before the crowd responds in unison ‘First Down!’
I miss seeing the craftsmen and women working diligently to build the beer snake in the north end zone seats. And I miss seeing Captain Blue, Buzz and Boomer do their thing.
I miss hearing a Goldeyes fan in the back row or along the first or third baselines complaining about a called strike, somehow knowing a pitch was too high or low, too inside our off the plate.
I miss being at a Jets game and the crowd hollering ‘Shoot!’ the instant a defenceman has the puck on his stick on a power-play. And I miss still being oddly fascinated by those fans who stand up and bang on the glass when the action is right in front of them.
I know I’m hardly alone in this. And I did mention it to Bombers guard Pat Neufeld when we chatted earlier this week for a project I am currently putting together. Those Thanksgiving day replays, I suggested, made me both nostalgic and disappointed at the same time.
“I found myself watching those CFL games on Thanksgiving Monday, too” said Neufeld. “I’m really, really missing it right now because those are the games you remember – the games on Thanksgiving weekend, or Labour Day.
“I’m hoping for better days in 2021 and we can get off to a hot start and on time and get this thing back on track.”
Well said, Mr. Neufeld.
More on the things I’ve missed and other Bomber/CFL notes and quotes in this week’s 1st & 10…
1. Watching those two Bombers games from Montreal reminded me of how much of a privilege it has been to cover this team and this league for the better part of 30 years now. It also sent me on a long stroll down memory lane. To that end, here’s a quick take on what I miss about games in the East Division:
- Visits to Montreal are special because of the location, what with Molson Stadium situated at the base of Mount Royal and offering a spectacular view of the downtown. CJOB legend Bob Irving and I usually walk to the game – it’s all uphill from the hotel – and the climb to the press box from field level is a workout.
- I miss Ivor Wynne/Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton and its traditions, like Pigskin Pete and the Tiger-Cats Oski-wee-wee chants.
- I miss being in Toronto and lamenting the decline of the Argos brand in that market, but faithful in the belief those that love that organization – like Pinball Clemons and play-by-play man Mike Hogan – will keep working to bring the shine back.
- I miss the new vibe in Ottawa at RedBlacks games, where the organization has made it cool and trendy again for younger fans to take in CFL games. The stadium-area rebuild around TD Place is sensational, and should be a blueprint for other teams in this league.
2. And in the West, I miss…
- Seeing all those transplanted Bombers fans at B.C. Place, many of them decked out in jerseys featuring names that represent decades of fandom from Ploen to Brock, Poplawski to Walby, Stegall, Roberts and Brown.
- Hearing long-time Edmonton play-by-play man Bryan Hall, whose blood surely is tinged with green and yellow, singing the club’s fight song.
- Coming across those diehards in Calgary who forever tailgate, regardless of the weather, while all decked out in cowboy hats and Stampeder red.
- And I most certainly miss the visits to Regina, where every citizen in the province busts out some sort of Roughriders gear on game day. Heck, they bust their green gear out on any day of the week, to be honest.
Grey Cup this year in the Saskatchewan capital would have been legendary. Let’s hope and pray we can all get a taste of this again. And soon.
3. It’s been quiet on the CFL news front the last few months – yes, too quiet – as the league regroups for 2021.
But some shocking news broke Friday with the announcement that Ed Hervey had stepped down as the GM of the B.C. Lions. Lions president Rick LeLacheur indicated in a press release that new head coach Rick Campbell and Director of Football Operations Neil McEvoy would work together to ‘ensure continuity in football operations.’
These kind of decisions invariably get the rumour mill spinning again and you can bet the Bombers crew of personnel men – Danny McManus, Ted Goveia and Ryan Rigmaiden – will have their names mentioned again in association with the gig, just as they did last winter with the GM opening with the Montreal Alouettes.
4. More CFL news/gossip. Not sure what to make of this, but Rod Pederson is reporting the league is investigating the possibility of playing a bubble season in Edmonton in 2021.
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No stone unturned, I suppose.
5. This week’s neg-list check-in takes a look at Iowa State QB Brock Purdy. In case you missed it, all nine CFL teams recently released 10 names from their 45-player negotiation list. Bombers Assistant GM/Director of U.S. Scouting outlined the club’s names here.
Purdy has his 20th-ranked Cyclones atop the Big 12 standings with a 3-0 record and they are 3-1 overall. And while he got a ton of press for all the wrong reasons for this throw earlier in the season he did pass for over 300 yards and two TDs in last week’s win over Texas Tech.
Purdy is third in the Big 12 in passing yardage so far and has thrown four TDs with just the one ‘What the…?’ interception. The Cyclones, FYI, have a bye this week and next face Oklahoma State on October 24.
6. Nice read here on Jermarcus Hardrick from his hometown paper in Batesville, The Panolian.
“I guess it’s kind of strange, me being a kid from Batesville, Mississippi, just trying to make something happen and then for my career to take off in Canada,” Hardrick said. “It’s been wonderful for me, though, and I don’t know how it all happened, but I love being in Canada, I love my teammates and our fans, and I’m so proud to always tell everybody there that I’m from Batesville and describe what it was like growing up here and being a South Panola Tiger.”
One more quote stood out to me, because it perfectly captures Hardrick’s passion for the game and for his team. This is Hardrick on winning the Grey Cup:
“A game of that magnitude was what I had worked so hard for since I started playing pro football and I was finally back in a championship,” Hardrick said. “Honestly, it took me about two or three days after we won when I woke up one day and really thought about what had happened. I just break down thinking about how these 30 years I had worked so hard to get something like this and it finally happened. It’s kind of like having your first child. It’s that kind of experience.”
7. This week’s good read comes from my colleague at CFL.ca, Chris O’Leary, who outlined the unique path Zach Collaros took last year to winning a Grey Cup with the Bombers.
8. Interestingly, I spoke to Collaros earlier this week while he was going for a walk with his wife Nicole and daughter Sierra, who just turned six months old.
“She’s doing great,” Collaros said of Sierra. “It’s been a lot of fun. It couldn’t have come at a better time, really, to help get us through this period we’re going through.
“I’m trying to stay optimistic about what’s going on. I’ll tell you what, I have more and more respect for women who stay home with the baby because it’s very, very stressful,” he added with a chuckle. “Every time she cries or looks like she’s disgruntled I’m like, ‘What’s wrong with her? What’s wrong with her? Is she OK?’ It’s been cool to be with her for every second.”
9. Cool piece by JC Abbot on americanfootballinternational.com this week about Bombers defensive end Thiadric Hansen. Hansen, as we told you in late August, is playing with the Wroclaw Panthers in Poland.
In JC’s piece, found here, he tells of how Hansen intercepted a pass in a game last weekend and returned it for a TD – à la Willie Jefferson.
“He told me if the quarterback obviously wants to throw that out route, wait a little bit, duck your head a bit so it seems like you are coming and force him to throw, then you jump up and catch the ball,” said Hansen. “(His Bombers D-line teammates) definitely helped me out a lot. Willie Jefferson with all the finesse stuff and Jackson Jeffcoat and Craig Roh taught me all the hand fighting.”
Just FYI, Hansen and his unbeaten Panthers meet the Bialystok Lowlanders on Saturday.
10. And, finally, speaking of Jeffcoat, we detailed in last week’s First & 10 about his plans to spend the weekend in Dallas visiting his father – long-time Dallas Cowboys/Buffalo Bills defensive end Jim Jeffcoat – so they could compare championship rings.
Here’s the photographic evidence:
— Winnipeg Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) October 14, 2020