Finally, after the seemingly endless posturing from officials, after the numerous false starts regarding location, funding and construction calendar, Investors Group Field is ready for some football.
And though a brand new chapter of Winnipeg Blue Bombers football won’t officially kick off until the 2013 CFL regular season opener later this month — June 27 is when the games really matter — this won’t take away any of the shine tonight’s stadium gridiron christening provides.
Forget about traditional exhibition exercises: the evaluation aspect of this pre-season contest with the Toronto Argonauts won’t fall between the lines. Instead, judgments and grades made by the fans in attendance will be handed out on the new $200-million stadium at the University of Manitoba.
If anticipation is any measure in this initial football fan experience, Investors Group Field should pass the test with flying shades of Blue and Gold.
"I’m expecting my socks to be blown off," Chris Godfried said two hours before the scheduled 7 p.m. kickoff (CJOB 680). "We’ve been waiting for two years for this to be built. I’m almost expecting miracles to happen inside.
"I’m looking forward to Winnipeg finally being on the map, with (the city) finally keeping up with modern times, and actually having a (stadium) to be proud of."
Carly Duncan held her expectations in check. She’s looking forward to taking in the action from her seat in Section 124.
"I think it’s going to be just like St. James, but the fans will be a little louder," she stated, "and we’re all going to forget the fact that this day was a year late."
As people made their way into the area late this afternoon, crews were still applying some last-minute touches to the facility and the surrounding grounds. One crew was working on the sod in front of the building, while a Manitoba Hydro cherry-picker was parked close by, installing a new street lamp on Chancellor Matheson Road.
On the north side of the building, workers were frantically installing a chain-link fence around the perimeter, to help keep curious trespassers at bay.
These little finishes will hardly matter once everyone is inside.
"I’m worse than the kids, I needed to come here early. We took a look inside when we picked up our season tickets last week but it’s a little different coming on a game day," said Cory Hume, who drove in from Carberry.
"Today was my last day of school and I could barely focus on my exam, that’s how excited I am about this day. It’s a good thing for the province. It’s something everyone should be proud of."
How the crowd noise bounces off the signature trusses and canopies (it’s expected the sound will amplify much louder than it did at Canad Inns Stadium) is what many of the fans were looking forward to experiencing this evening, but Hume had a different focus.
"The bigger seats," he said. "Sitting up on those benches and those seats in the old place, I’m not going to miss that at all."
As all this was going on, Brian Dobie sat on at the top of the steps in front of the stadium and chowed down on a couple hot dogs he purchased from a nearby cart.
The Manitoba Bisons football head coach was so excited to see a football game at Investors Group Field he stopped in earlier in the afternoon to sneak a peek through one of the gates, seeing a handful of Blue Bombers front-office staff and executives huddled at midfield participating in a group high-five.
This is what a new home does. It creates a sense of pride.
"The sense of team in this project has been incredible," offered Dobie, whose Bisons begin play in the new digs this fall. "This is a significant day for the Bombers and for myself. Even though we’re not playing tonight, this means so much to our program and our players.
"It means so much to everyone involved."