Brady Oliveira has long waved the flag for Winnipeg, for the Blue Bombers and for Canadian football players everywhere.
It was somehow fitting then, that on Thursday night at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls the Blue Bombers running back was saluted for his work in a historic season in being named the Canadian Football League’s Most Outstanding Canadian Player.
It was Oliveira’s first major league award, and he became the first Blue Bomber to be named top Canadian since Andrew Harris – the man he replaced in the backfield as RB1 – was honoured in 2017.
“It’s a dream. I feel like this entire season has been a dream for me,” said Oliveira. “It’s almost like I’ve got to keep blinking and see if this is real life and if I’ve woken up yet from this dream.
“It’s been incredible, and I’m truly blessed. I appreciate my teammates and my coaches. Being able to work with those guys every single day makes it a lot more enjoyable and a lot more fun to be with a group of men like that.
“I talk all the time about my offensive line and the receivers. I mean it, man, this is our award. If you watch the tape there’s some times I’m running and it’s four or five yards before I even get touched and that’s credit to my offensive line, the receivers, and the coaches who prepare us every single week to be dominant and we’ve shown that every single week.”
The winners were selected following voting by the Football Reporters of Canada and the nine head coaches and Oliveira received 57 of 61 votes over Montreal Alouettes safety Marc-Antoine Dequoy. A double-nominee, Oliveira was the runner up for the CFL Most Outstanding Player award, won by Toronto Argonauts quarterback Chad Kelly with the vote tally 39-22.
Oliveira was the only Blue Bomber player to be honoured Thursday, as Toronto’s Dejon Allen was named the Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman over Jermarcus Hardrick – Allen had 39 votes – while Ryan Dinwiddie of the Argos was selected Coach of the Year over Mike O’Shea after securing 58 votes. O’Shea had been honoured as the top coach in the two previous seasons.
In his acceptance speech Oliveira heaped praise on his O-line and receivers, running backs coach Jason Hogan – who he referred to as a father figure and big brother – and the Blue Bombers organization. He was emotional when thanking his girlfriend and especially his mom Shani and sister Kallee, both of whom were in attendance.
Also from his acceptance speech:
“This means a lot to me. I’m a proud Canadian. I’m living out a childhood dream playing for my hometown with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and it’s truly a childhood dream. I’ve been a CFL fan ever since I was a young kid watching legends like Milt Stegall, Charles Roberts and Canadians like Jon Cornish and Andrew Harris. Andrew Harris being a vital part of my young career when I got to the Bombers. I want to say thank you Andrew for everything you’ve done for me. So, as a Canadian kid, this means the world to me.”
Oliveira assumed the Blue Bombers starting running back chores in 2022, but his ascension to stardom was hardly a straight line, with that story told here earlier this week. He found his rhythm after a slow start last year to post his first 1,000-yard season and carried that momentum into 2023 when he was dominant while working behind the Blue Bombers talented and gritty offensive line.
Most Outstanding Canadian Player: Brady Oliveira
His 2023 season: Led the CFL in rushing with 1,534 yards, as well as yards from scrimmage (2,016) and touchdowns (13). His rushing total was the second highest by a Canadian in league history after Jon Cornish rumbled for 1,813 yards for the Calgary Stampeders in 2013.
Oliveira had a league-best seven 100-yard rushing games and set career highs in rushing, receptions (38) and receiving yards (482).
Previous Blue Bombers Most Outstanding Canadian winners:Gerry James (1954), Gerry James (1957), Ken Nielsen (1968), Joe Poplawski (1981), Paul Bennett (1983), Joe Poplawski (1986), Scott Flagel (1987), Gerald Wilcox (1994), Doug Brown (2001), Andrew Harris (2017).
Vote count: Oliveira received 57 of 61 votes.
The pomp and circumstance of awards night now in the rear-view mirror, Oliveira & Co. are now all full speed ahead for Sunday’s 110thGrey Cup at Tim Hortons Field against the Montreal Alouettes.
“This is obviously great and a great honour,” Oliveira said. “I’m very fortunate to be able to win the Most Outstanding Canadian Award. But, with that being said, the job is not done. We’ve got unfinished business and there’s a piece of hardware on Sunday that I need to get and my teammates need to get and to experience. Job’s not done.”
The CFL’s other award winners announced Thursday were B.C. Lions defensive end Mathieu Betts (Most Outstanding Defensive Player); Argos kick returner Javon Leake (Most Outstanding Special Teams Player) and Toronto defensive back Qwan’tez Stiggers (Most Outstanding Rookie).