Lucky Whitehead with fans
Adam Bighill slid into a chair in front a room full of media for his post-Western Final interviews, the raucous celebratory sounds of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers locker room seeping through the concrete walls. Featured prominently on the index finger of Bighill’s right hand and sparkling under the bright TV lights was his 2019 Grey Cup ring.
“I brought it as a reminder of what we’re going to play for today,” said the Bombers middle linebacker not long after a wacky, nutty, 21-17 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders that sent his squad to a second straight championship game. “It’s a special time of year. This is where you want to be – to have the opportunity to go and play in another Grey Cup.
“When the playoffs come this is what I think about and so that’s why I had it with me today. I don’t know if anyone really knows I had it. I brought it to work at the stadium, put it at the top of my locker so I can see it. I didn’t make a big deal of it.”
Of all the sights and sounds that came from a spectacular day at IG Field – from a frenzied and boisterous crowd, to Andrew Harris grinding out yards behind a mammoth offensive line, to the defence holding firm when it mattered – perhaps none better represented the Bombers’ collective head space than the scene with Bighill and his Grey Cup ring.
The Bombers were pushed to the limit by the Riders Sunday afternoon and despite six turnovers and a -4 in the takeaway/giveaway ratio, they shut out the Riders in the final 15 minutes for the win. As CFL stats guru Steve Daniel discovered on Monday, dating back to 1962 the only team that has won a playoff game with a turnover ratio worse than -4 were the Ottawa Rough Riders of 1982 (-5). Beyond that and over that 59-year span, 30 teams have finished with a ratio of -4, with the only team to win being the Bombers on Sunday.
How it all unfolded speaks of this team’s resiliency, sure. But it also reinforced the approach heading into this season to return as many core players as possible in a league that can be so transient. The ’19 team deserved the chance to defend a championship, after all, even after the lost 2020 season due to the pandemic.
“This is such a special group of guys that put in a huge amount of work collectively for each other,” said Bighill. “No egos. No me’s, no I’s… it’s all we’s and for each other. Our locker room is something special and it’s something that I love and value so much and I know all the guys do, too.
“It’s such a good feeling that we lay it on the line for each other and we believe in each other, and we know that we’re going to get it done. Defending the cup is right where we want to be, and our hard work has got us to this point.”
More on the Western Final win and a peek ahead at Grey Cup week in this week’s edition of UPON FURTHER REVIEW…
THE BOMBERS’ MARKETING CAMPAIGN THIS YEAR… beyond the simple, but brilliant ‘For the W’ has been ‘Defend the Cup.’ The club took a critical step in that on Sunday with the win, marking the first time Winnipeg will be in consecutive Grey Cups since losing in 1992 and 1993. Interestingly enough, the last time the Bombers won back-to-back championships was in 1961-62 with victories over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
“We earned it all season. We earned it tonight,” said running back Andrew Harris. “We faced some adversity today and we earned this win. It was great to do that at home in front of our fans. We’re going against a great Hamilton team, a team that’s got a great offence, a great defence and that can do great things on special teams.
“We have to have a similar mindset as far as preparation, if not better. Grey Cup week is always a bit of chaos with so much going on… events, a bunch of media scrums and all the different things going on and you’re in a different environment. We have enough veteran leadership on our team to make sure everything is going to go status quo and everything will be all good. We’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
Asked if he thought the Ticats would have a ‘score to settle’ from ’19, Harris didn’t hesitate a moment and answered: “Let’s go.”
HARRIS WAS SENSATIONAL ON SUNDAY… finishing with 136 yards rushing on 23 carries, including 14 carries covering five yards or more. That helped set up a lot of manageable second down conversions, with the Bombers going 15-of-22 in that department.
“If you didn’t know before, you understand how much he loves the game of football and how much he loves being on the field with his teammates,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “I don’t know what he ended up with. Oh, 136? That’s pretty damn good.”
Riders defensive tackle Micah Johnson was asked after the game where Winnipeg gained its edge.
“In the run game,” said Johnson. “Too many seven, eight-yard runs. We gave up too much in the run game. (Harris) is a good, patient runner. He’ll make you pay if anybody pops their gap or if he finds a gap through patience in the backfield. There were too many times where we were a gap short. It didn’t really matter how we were going to face it, they were going to gain yards with it. Hats off to them, they did some good things schematically.
“I don’t think it’s nothing special or particular that they’re doing. Football is about breaks. Sometimes you get ‘em, sometimes you don’t,” Johnson added. “It can feel like that a whole year where your team is the one that’s getting the breaks or getting the close calls. I don’t think it’s anything special about them. I don’t think it’s anything special that they’re doing. They’re a good organization. They’re well-coached. They play together, their offensive line plays together, and everybody understands their role. But me, I don’t make monsters of men. They’re just guys over there. It is what it is.”
One more on Harris, who hadn’t practiced for weeks before returning to the field last Wednesday. No one, it seems, was the least bit surprised he not only suited up on Sunday but played so well. Worth noting: in his last two playoff games – the 2019 Grey Cup and the Western Final – has rushed for 270 yards on 41 carries.
“The limited reps that he did have in practice, I was thinking ‘This guy’s young, he’s bouncing around out here,’” said Zach Collaros. “Andrew’s a gamer so I wasn’t surprised at all.”
Added Riders head coach Craig Dickenson:
“We don’t believe a word we see when it comes to the injury report with Andrew Harris. Game-time decision? Did you see him out there? I mean, he was on fire. Not just running the ball, but after the run he’s in the end zone celebrating. He’s fine. I think they just rested him. He was certainly 100 percent if not more tonight. He’s a good football player. The only game-time decision with Mr. Harris was how many yards he was going to rush for.”
A SALUTE TO THE FANS WHO MADE IT TO IG FIELD… because it was a special day to see so many there in person on a day with a weather warning.
“Unbelievable. They were unbelievable. Everybody showed up,” said Collaros. “I had to drive by earlier today to pick up a parking pass and they were out there at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. tailgating… I was beeping my horn. It was just an awesome day. I woke up this morning and looked outside and said, ‘OK, it’s going to be a fun one.’ The crowd was unbelievable… certainly brought a lot of energy and gave us a lot of adrenaline pushes… it was just an unbelievable atmosphere to be a part of and after winning that game and being able to celebrate with my teammates and with our fans was really cool.”
This scene – featuring former Bomber Lucky Whitehead on the left, by the way – came near the end of the game and with the stands still full:
Posting this video again cuz it was an absolute SCENE 🤯 pic.twitter.com/DO3N9GznHm
— Winnipeg Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) December 6, 2021
AND, FINALLY… the Blue Bombers video team put a GoPro camera in the CJOB broadcast booth to capture the last few seconds of Bob Irving’s final call after 47 years doing play-by-play.
Bob Irving sends us off to the Grey Cup in style 💙 pic.twitter.com/PIA2wPOm7t
— Winnipeg Blue Bombers (@Wpg_BlueBombers) December 6, 2021
The clip shows Bob’s brilliance – we call it a genius in its simplicity – and the fact the video has over 100,000 views speaks volumes of the man’s popularity. A fitting salute to a legend.