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Good times roll

Bomber fans party their tailgates off before Thursday's game

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The tailgating culture was flourishing at the Blue Bombers' season-opening game Thursday night -- just not in the team's officially designated tailgate party area.

"That's not tailgating, this is tailgating," said fan John (Cooch) Couture as he pulled up the tailgate of his ride, sipped something cold in a cup, and set up chairs and a barbecue with a dozen of his football buddies.

The tailgating was a few hundred metres west of Investors Group Field on any space fans could find on the grass next to the parking lot of the indoor soccer complex.

"We reserve this spot by getting here early enough. The grass is nice," said Brent Gilbert, who was expecting 15 people for pre-game pulled pork.

The Blue Bombers set up their own tailgate party Thursday night that had pretty much everything you'd want in a tailgate party and more, except for tailgates.

There was a beer garden, picnic area and children's area, but no vehicles and no tailgates before the game between the Bombers and the Toronto Argonauts.

There were tailgates galore over at the soccer complex, at least a dozen parties two hours before kickoff.

There was fun, food, people hanging out with friends, and, it goes without saying, no illegal alcohol in sight.

"If it's in a cup, they won't bug you," advised Garth Nickel, a friend of Cooch's.

"You have to be responsible and have a designated driver," Cooch said.

"Not to take anything away from the Blue Bombers, but we think we can do it better," Peter Combirdakis said.

Several veteran tailgaters said they've been to NFL and college games in the U.S. and tailgate parties are huge, starting five or six hours before the games and involving full meals and much camaraderie while sitting behind the open tailgate of SUVs and family minivans.

These are your people, Bombers CEO Wade Miller -- they'd like a port-a-potty in the indoor soccer parking lot, a garbage can and a recycling bin. They would like wins and some more Canadian stars, sure, but Thursday night they would have settled for a toilet.

Over at the official tailgate site, the lack of tailgates notwithstanding, enthusiasm was rampant.

"Awesome," said Carla Pelletier Gray. Last year, she said, "You needed to get here at five o'clock for the traffic, and then there was nothing to do."

At Investors Group Field, "It's an event for the day," not somewhere you arrive 20 minutes before the game starts, she said.

She and her husband had just met strangers and became friends.

"You've got food, you've got something to drink, you've got music, what else do you need?" said Gray Dolson.

Adriana Zibroski gave the venue two thumbs up: "It's my first Bombers game and I think it's great."

Doug Cathro predicted the Bombers will need more tables when word gets around. "It's more like a beer garden," Cathro said, stating the obvious, but he emphasized, "It is nice."

Ken Simpson showed a voucher park and ride officials gave him for 50 per cent off drinks at the tailgate party, but lamented the vendors weren't aware of them. Still, he didn't mind paying full price for a cold one and a nice place to sit.

Trying to keep the kids occupied because you arrived two hours early to get parking?

The Bombers had the answer Thursday.

The tailgate area included an inflatable bouncer for kids, targets to try their quarterback arms with kid-sized footballs, face painting and animal twisty balloons, and even 40 yards' worth of artificial turf on which they could try to match the best times ever recorded by all-time greats.

Seeing a time of 4.28 as the standard to match, one calorie-over-advantaged fellow of a later vintage wondered, "Is that in minutes? I think I can do that."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 27, 2014 B1

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