Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–6–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tonight's game tribute to coach

Bombers will be playing for their good friend Harris

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The actions will come later this evening, when the opening kickoff falls back to the Earth and the game starts as its intended distraction.

Wednesday was the time for words. If any could be found.

Players and coaches with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (3-1) were back on field at Canad Inns Stadium Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after the sudden passing of defensive line and assistant head coach Richard Harris.

Harris suffered a massive heart attack in his office Tuesday afternoon. He was 63.

A handful of players spoke to the media about Harris for the first time, about what the coach meant on a personal level and how the players are dealing with the loss.

Tonight's game, a tilt with the winless B.C Lions (0-4), was a secondary concern for the club.

"A lot of sadness, a lot of mixed emotions," veteran centre Obby Khan told reporters. "Guys were crying in meetings and the locker-room. I don't think anybody said a word before 9 o'clock meetings. It's a very tough day, but guys realize that coach Harris would want us to be out practising today and playing tomorrow. He loved the game more than anything."

Khan, one of the few veterans on the club, said he sensed teammates are looking at the game as a chance to get away from their own thoughts at this time. Heavy hearts was a term used frequently around the solemn stadium Wednesday.

Defensive end Odell Willis, on dedicating this game to Harris:

"The game, the season, everything else I do the field -- it goes to him. One hundred per cent."

If you're going to the game tonight, send us your photos of the tribute.

 

 

Veteran defensive tackle Doug Brown, who worked with Harris for the last six seasons and developed a relationship past the player-coach rapport that typically exists in professional sports, was emotional when speaking of his friend.

Friend, not coach.

"That line doesn't distinguish with us," a soft-spoken Brown offered. "I've spent as much time with him off the field and outside of here as I have playing football for him, and they've both been privileges. It just happened too fast.

"There wasn't enough time."

Time -- that's the biggest challenge the healing Bombers face heading into the game with the Lions under such adverse circumstances. How do you prepare to play with this weight on you, when you have to walk past his office and know he's not here anymore?

Two days ago, those players lost a popular coach, a man who served as a father figure to not only them but for their head coach. Wednesday, they practised in an eerie silence.

Paul LaPolice said Harris had the pulse of the team.

"Football can be horrible for the fact that we have to play a game (today)," he said. "You don't get four days, you don't get a week, you just have to go back and continue to go."

At 41, LaPolice is one of the younger coaches in the CFL. Having Harris watching over him -- and at 6-foot-5 that was the case -- provided a lot of comfort. Harris knew exactly what to say at the exact right time and if he didn't, he would just go to his default setting -- a big bear hug to set things right.

The team will wear 'RH' stickers on their helmets as a tribute to Harris. Quarterback Buck Pierce, the natural leader born from the position he plays, hopes his charges look at this as an chance to honour Harris.

"We have a unique opportunity," he said. "A lot of people that lose loved ones don't have any opportunity to celebrate them. He's a football coach and we have the opportunity to go on the field and celebrate him as a man."

The final words to Brown, who looked visibly shaken as he spoke about Harris on the football field Wednesday. He's seen it all in his career, but they don't tell you how to prepare for something like this.

"Obviously right now it's difficult to think about the game but at the same time, the only tribute you can make to the guy is try to do him service on the field," he said. "And the biggest concern there is -- how do you live up to it? How do you honour a guy that's so much, (who's) been such an ambassador for this province and this team?

"How can you pay him enough respect on the football field?"

adam.wazny@freepress@mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 28, 2011 C1

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