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This article was published 26/5/2013 (1373 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Jean Hatch had an irrepressible cheeky thought as she parked at the University of Manitoba for the massive evangelical church service Sunday at the new Investors Group Field.
With God's blessing, how can the Winnipeg Blue Bombers lose this year, Hatch asked herself.
"Hopefully, the Bombers will win," she said as she chatted with friends. "He might be blamed if they don't," her husband, Tim Hatch, added. The couple are devout Christians and enthusiastic sports fans. "We're season-ticket holders," added Tim.
The Hatches and their friends, Ingrid and Rick Koss, were among the thousands who attended the fourth annual One Heart Winnipeg, a multidenominational Christian service that doubled as a test run for the $200-million football stadium that is the Bombers' new home.
The event was the public's first chance to check out the new 33,000-seat facility.
'We think it's a really great opportunity, that the first event, to open the stadium is a celebration of God. That's awesome'
Some 15,000 people filed into the stadium for the event.
For Rick Koss, the church moderator for the McIvor Avenue Mennonite Brethren Church, the idea of the new football stadium opening for a religious service as its first public event satisfied something profound in him.
"We think it's a really great opportunity, that the first event to open the stadium is a celebration of God. That's awesome," Koss said.
The One Heart Winnipeg service has grown to become the city's largest religious gathering. Organizers expected anywhere from 12,000 to 25,000 to fill the stands for the service Sunday and by 1 p.m., most of the seats on the lower banks were a brightly coloured mix of Bomber blue and gold and every other colour under the rainbow.
People were still streaming in through the gates as the lineup of speakers got ready to take the stage.
Speakers included dignitaries such as Mayor Sam Katz and Bombers legend Milt Stegall, along with a range of pastors.
About 90 city churches had agreed to keep their doors closed on Sunday morning as a way to encourage their members to attend the One Heart Winnipeg mega-service.
A glossy One Heart program handed out to spectators and the devout drew parallels between the spiritual and sport that fit the occasion.
"Jesus taught we are all on the same team, with the same coach working toward the same goal," the program read. There were even free Bibles available in the concourse.
For the Winnipeg Football Club, the event could be judged a success just by looking at the response.
"The most exciting thing here today is the people and the look on their faces," said Bombers' marketing vice-president Jerry Maslowsky. "A lot of people here today are very proud."
He expected many season-ticket holders to turn out for the event, whether they were religious or not.
And the fans did, including Winnipeg's own Dancin' Gabe, the city's biggest sport fan and a guy who got almost as many friendly greetings as Hall of Famer Stegall.
And what did Gabe say about the Bombers' new digs?
"It's awesome. It's the best outdoor facility in Canada. In North America. In the world," Gabe declared.
Dozens of volunteers turned out in Disneyesque costumes, adding to the carnival atmosphere in the lead-up to the service. Rapunzel, Batman, Spider-Man and countless clowns posed for smartphone photos and handed out candy to kids.
The event took months of planning, said Maslowsky. Organizers from One Heart approached the Winnipeg Football Club six months ago.
For the Bombers, the event was the perfect dry run for the football games and concerts to come. The Bombers' first game at Investors Group Field is an exhibition game against the Toronto Argonauts on June 12, and Taylor Swift will perform at the stadium on June 22.
"It gives us an opportunity to test the facility, which is very important: the gates, the ticketing, the parking, the production. And even though it's called a test event, we put everything in place," said Maslowsky.