Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A fond farewell to old stadium

Fans whoop it up and exit gracefully

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It was a grand finale for a 58-year-old stadium and an emotional send-off by diehard fans.

One last glorious frigid, windblown, see-your-breath game; one last wonderful victory for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a sold-out house; one last Sunday of football that will live on in fans' memories.

For Dave Giesbrecht, 45, that meant wearing jean shorts in the -15 C weather at Canad Inns Stadium Sunday.

After more than three decades of watching football there, why change?

"As long as they don't turn blue, I'm good to go," said Giesbrecht, a towering vehicle salesman who didn't betray any physical discomfort despite his bare legs.

Giesbrecht said his fondest memory of attending games at the stadium was with his late father.

"My favourite memory was me and my dad coming and sitting on the west side for a Calgary Stampeders playoff game and chipping about an inch-and-a-half of ice off the aluminum benches to make a little spot for us to sit on," he said.

Meanwhile, in the women's bathroom on the north side of the stadium, women huddled in a corner trying to warm themselves, some stuffing warming packets in their boots and mittens.

"I'm excited for the new (stadium)," said Kristi Perkins, a 21-year-old snow removal worker who has season tickets with her mother and two sisters.

She wore two sweaters and a winter jacket -- with a football jersey on top.

"I'm all ready to go," she said.

And while some of the outfits were wild and there was bathroom chatter about the possibility of fans removing their seats with screwdrivers, the crowd was well-behaved.

Jessie Kennington, who's been going to games for more than 20 years, sat in a wheelchair on the northwest side of the field. The 61-year-old said she's put down a deposit on seats for next year. She said "for the most part" accessibility at the stadium is good -- and she was hopeful it would get even better at the new facility.

"From the sounds of it, it's going to be even better," Kennington said.

More years watching the game has meant more fans, more security and more lines, said one 35-year veteran.

"A football fan is a football fan, I think. Some of them are loud, some of them are quiet, some of them jump up and down, some of them don't, but they're still a fan nevertheless," said Hugh Owens, 75, a retired insurance executive from Portage la Prairie.

And then there were those who went for the unconventional look.

Randy Giesbrecht, 52, borrowed a thick fur coat to wear to the game, along with a wig.

"You're not going to spray-paint me, are you?" he said.

Henry Dzwonek, 64, was at the game with his grandson, 10-year-old Jackson Oneschuk.

"When he was a baby we got him a pair of sleepers autographed by (former Bombers quarterback) Khari Jones," said Dzwonek.

He said he'll miss the "historic" space but is looking forward to the new stadium and maybe an upgrade to the men's washrooms.

"I don't think they'll have a trough in the new one," he said.

Sometimes after the final game at a stadium, fans take apart seats, grab chunks of turf and rip memorabilia from the walls.

Not at Canad Inns Stadium Sunday.

The crowd was well-behaved. Before the end of the game, a message was broadcast warning about surveillance to prevent fans from breaking the rules.

Downtown, police set up security at Portage and Main, the traditional gathering place for celebrations, but few people showed up.

It could be a different story at Portage and Main next Sunday when the Bombers take on the B.C. Lions for the Grey Cup.

And starting next summer -- a new stadium, new traditions.

gabrielle.giroday@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 21, 2011 A3

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