An estimated crowd of 7,500 -- including Premier Greg Selinger -- turned out at Canad Inns Stadium Sunday for the opening day of training camp.
Fans began lining up outside the west side stadium gates at 8 a.m. and a crowd of hundreds stretched all the way to St. James Street a half hour later as what's believed to be a record crowd for an opening day of training camp turned out en masse in response to the urgings of head coach Paul LaPolice over the past couple weeks.
"It just shows how much pride there is in this team and how much people care about this team," LaPolice told reporters at the conclusion of what was a nearly three-and-a-half hour practice.
"I told the players they should be proud because the people believe in them."
Selinger spoke briefly to the crowd and got an easy cheer when he asked if the fans thought the Bombers would return to the Grey Cup in 2012. "Me too," Selinger proclaimed. "With your support, we'll be back in the Grey Cup. And then we'll have a Grey Cup in the new stadium, once it's finished. It's going to look real nice."
Selinger, Winnipeg mayor Sam Katz and CFL commissioner Mark Cohon are taking a joint tour of the new stadium Monday morning with Bombers president Garth Buchko. The subject of when the new stadium will host a Grey Cup will surely come up, with 2014 the earliest possible date. This year's Grey Cup is in Toronto and the 2013 game will be played in Regina.
A total of 72 players were on the field Sunday competing for 46 roster and seven practice roster spots up for grabs this training camp.
A couple of new prospects stood out on day one. Running back Chad Simpson, an NFL veteran who ran back kicks for the Indianapolis Colts in the 2009 Super Bowl, wowed the crowd with a couple of explosive runs. And defensive back Demond Washington -- who finally arrived in camp after delays getting over the border last week -- showed some quick speed to the ball in breaking up a couple of passes.
On the downside, veteran punter Mike Renaud and his challenger in camp this year, Eric Wilbur, both struggled for distance and accuracy in windy conditions.