HAMILTON – Adam Bighill stood on the sidelines at Tim Hortons Field Tuesday afternoon as the sun set on a pristine November day in Steeltown, watching his Winnipeg Blue Bombers teammates put the work in on the first practice of Grey Cup week.
And you just had to know playing the spectator was absolutely killing the veteran linebacker, a man whose whole career is built on the daily grind and the rewards that come from it.
Injured late in the first half of last weekend’s Western Final win over the B.C. Lions – he was carted off and was then spotted wearing a boot upon arrival here Monday – Bighill’s status is still undetermined as the club prepares for Sunday’s 110th Grey Cup against the Montreal Alouettes.
Bighill, who wasn’t wearing a boot a day later, didn’t do interviews on Tuesday and earlier in the day head coach Mike O’Shea said this when asked for a status report on both Bighill and receiver Dalton Schoen who, by the way, was at practice on Tuesday – also sans boot – but not participating: “Dalton Schoen is continuing his rehab and continuing to work every single day and Biggie is just starting that process. If you’re in our room on a daily basis I say the same thing every day – I’ll never rule a guy out. I’ve just got to give him hope. Why would I dash that? Two pros… obviously they attack every single day the same and whether that leads to them playing or not, we’ll see.”
The Blue Bombers have managed to soldier on without Schoen since he was nicked in an October win over the B.C. Lions, cranking out wins over Edmonton and Calgary before the Western Final victory over the Lions.
Bighill’s potential absence is devastating, but the club did get big-time production from Malik Clements, Brian Cole and Shayne Gauthier after his departure vs. the Lions.
“It’s always next man up, but we don’t know about the rotation yet and we don’t know anything about Biggie yet, either. That’s still up in the air,” said Cole, who had three tackles, a tackle for a loss and a sack in the Western Final. “It’s all about timing for me. The opportunity presented itself and the team trusts me a little bit more to do different jobs.
“We’ve got a veteran-based team and earning that trust and understanding your role is important. I keep saying it: this is a blessing.”
Cole, like Clements, came to the Blue Bombers after being cast adrift by the Edmonton Elks. A seventh-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 2020, he has stood out for the club on special teams and has three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery this year.
“It’s difficult sometimes to be patient – nobody grows up wanting to be only on special teams – and so when your opportunity comes you’ve got to take it,” Cole said. “It’s whatever it takes. That was our saying last year – ‘W.I.T’, whatever it takes. Whatever it takes to win, whatever it takes for the team, that’s the goal, because winning feels good.
“It’s for the team. I know (Bighill) will be there for us on Sunday playing or cheering us on. We all live through each other, from the starters to the practice squad. We’re all in this for each other.”
More on the Blue Bombers first day of practice in this week’s NEED TO KNOW…
There was an unquestioned upbeat mood around the Blue Bombers as they held their first practice at Tim Hortons. The entire squad it here, including practice roster players and for many there is a sense of déjà vu from winning the Grey Cup here in 2021.
“There’s definitely a lot of excitement you can see around the guys,” said Brady Oliveira after Tuesday’s session. “It’s good to be back here. We put so much work in throughout the year to get to our end goal – playing in another Grey Cup. It’s good having a core group of guys that have experienced some Grey Cup weeks and know what’s going on. We obviously don’t want to think that it’s routine-like, but obviously having guys who have experienced it and can share knowledge with the other guys as to how the week goes is definitely good.”
A lot of chatter a few days later for the punt-block touchdown by Nick Hallett in the Western Final. Untouched off the edge, the veteran safety was in on Lions punter Stefan Flintoft in a millisecond to stuff the kick and then scoop it up before being pushed, pulled and dragged into the end zone by Thiadric Hansen, Brian Cole and Malik Clements.
Afterward, O’Shea referred to Hallett as ‘grimy’ – which coming from a Hall of Famer like that – had Hallett beaming.
“I like that. It’s just playing with grit and that never quit mentality,” said Hallett. “I just try to bring my best on every play. I was untouched on that play. You’ve got to give credit to all the coaches for their scouting on that play and all the guys next me who helped get me free but also carried me into the end zone.
“That’s probably the loudest I’ve ever heard the fans. Crazy. Wild. You have to give a shout-out to those fans for that. They helped us big time and they’re just amazing. I love this team. I love these fans. Now we’ve got to go finish this one off.”
SUPPORT FROM… GUESS WHO?:
One of Winnipeg’s finest is all aboard:
— Burton Cummings (@burtoncummings) November 14, 2023