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Bomber fans wowed by new stadium

Bomber fans wowed by new stadium

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Shireen Douma stepped onto the concourse at Investors Group Field and soaked up a wide-eyed view at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' $200-million playpen.

"Wow," said Douma.

Her sister Kim said the same thing. So did her sister Karey -- all siblings echoing the same sentiment at the same time, standing in the same spot, looking up at the wavy-canopies that are the signature of the Bombers' new digs.

"Looks high-end," Shireen concluded. "We've got a class establishment for a good, rocking Winnipeg time."

Indeed, if there was one overwhelming reaction to Investors Group Field, it was that many fans -- after over five decades and three generations at the old Winnipeg Stadium -- felt they had stepped into another dimension. Or another city.

"This place, oh, Gawd, it just blows my mind," marvelled Gordon Lawrie, who was poking around with pal Larry Buffie, 75, who during Wednesday night's exhibition match against the visiting Toronto Argonauts has now watched the Bombers play in three home football stadiums.

Buffie was just knee-high to Leo Lewis, back in the 1950s, when the kids would stand outside Osborne Stadium and catch extra points that left the park. Returning the ball was their ticket inside.

Asked to rate the new stadium on Bison Drive, Buffie replied: "On a scale of 1-to-10, this is a 20."

"I think they'll be blown away," Lawrie added, about the reaction of "first-timers." "How could you not be? It's a first class stadium. The Jets did it first coming back. Now this brings it up another notch."

Wednesday night was part test drive, part open house. While there were 28,000-plus in the 33,400-seat gridiron theatre, thousands spent the sun-bathed summer evening wandering the stadium's expansive main concourse, like people crammed in the kitchen at a party. It wasn't the giddy, circus-like celebration of the NHL's return two years ago at the MTS Centre. It was more subdued, seeing for their own eyes what all the hype was about.

And early reviews were almost universally gushing.

"It's huge. Pretty impressive," noted Judy Posthumus, whose No. 11 Bombers jersey was adorned with "Born Ready" on the back. "I don't even know where my seat is but I'm sure it will be good. I think we invested our money pretty good."

The dearly departed Canad Inns Stadium it ain't. Dozens of eateries line the concourse that circles the field. The luxury suites were furnished with leather furniture, stocked with food and drink.

Standing at the south end gate, Bombers vice-president and chief operating officer Jim Bell, a life-long fan, stood shaking fans' hands as though welcoming them into his home.

"I can't give you a word," Bell said. "It's awesome. It's exciting. I feel like a kid at Christmas opening my first gift.

"To see the expressions on (fans') faces makes the whole process -- every minute -- worth the wait," Bell added. "It was not easy. It was a trial of perseverance, a trial of patience. I never thought I'd see it. And through the whole process, we really were beginning to wonder if we'd see it. But it's reality."

The birth of the IGF wasn't without labour pains. Initial grand plans proposed by former Bombers lifer David Asper were sacked. In 2010, the project was approved with funding from the federal and provincial governments, with the Bombers still holding an $85-million I.O.U. to the taxpayer.

But for die-hard Blue and Gold fans, money was never the issue. Take Theresa Zacharias, who bought her first season tickets after her mother, Yvette, a religious Bombers fan, died at age 82 in 2010 just before plans for the new stadium were announced.

"I can feel her presence here," Zacharias said. "I love it. I've been here five times already and I just can't... it's phenomenal."

Matt Maruca, sitting with friends Fraser Romeo and sister Erin, had been transplanted from the old stadium's notorious Section S (think beer snake). They approved the fancy new surroundings.

Said Fraser: "Canad Inns was a dump. It's less rinky-dink."

"It beats the hell out of Regina," Maruca added, "and that's all that matters."

Cary Hamel, along with wife Janet, said the stadium will be a jewel for what he believes is the best league in the world. "This is a stadium that the CFL deserves," he said. "It's intimate, it's great. You're right over the field."

Added Janet: "I think it's very 'wow.' It's got great architecture and a great vibe."

For Chuck Duboff, who was sitting in his seat in Section 133 over an hour before kickoff, Investors Group Field represents a continuing renaissance for the city that not too long ago was devastated by the loss of the NHL and mired in self doubt.

"It feels big-time," Duboff said, fresh from watching a Winnipeg Goldeyes matinee at Shaw Park. "All these things are starting to make us feel more pride in our city. I spent all afternoon at a beautiful ballpark. From my seat (at the Goldeyes game) I could see that spectacular Human Rights Museum across the street. And there's the new airport. Our city is alive.

"To all the naysayers, all the nitpickers, I say, 'Pffft.' "

The Douma sisters weren't looking for naysayers or nitpickers on Wednesday. They were too busy checking out the Bombers' new house and looking for the liquor cabinet.

They'd already spotted the Rum Hut and had an idea for improvement.

"I think," Shireen said, "we need a Rye Hut, too."

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Toronto Argonauts squared off in a pre-season tilt at Investors Group Field Wednesday night. While the Bombers lost 24-6, the action on the turf was only part of the attraction, as fans were eager to check out the new stadium itself.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2013 B6


Updated on Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 7:08 AM CDT: adds video, replaces photo

7:15 AM: adds slideshow

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