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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New Blue stadium lives up to the hype; now it's up to you

Posted: 05/17/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 05/17/2013 8:27 AM | Updates

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It’s surreal: Investors Group Field is going to open soon, says Ed Tait. The only thing missing now is fans.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

It’s surreal: Investors Group Field is going to open soon, says Ed Tait. The only thing missing now is fans. Photo Store

We begin today with a confession: Yours truly is a sucker for gimmicks, easily distracted by shiny objects and often influenced by advertising hype.

An example: Last winter we bought an ergonomic toilet seat which featured "injection moulded polypropylene construction." Sounds amazing, right?

The reality? We spent about $50 on a plastic toilet seat no different than the old one.

And so all this was rolling around in my little brain as I headed over to Investors Group Field Thursday morning for my first tour of the joint by Blue Bombers media relations director Darren Cameron.

My intention was to view the facility with clear and objective eyes.

And my initial take?

The place is a freaking palace. A jewel. And it's going to perfectly complete the sporting facility trifecta in this town that already includes Shaw Park and the MTS Centre.

Granted, this comes from a guy who spent 20-plus years at Canad Inns Stadium daily stepping around pigeon guano, trudging up crumbling stairs and cramming his six-foot frame into a seat to watch practice; a guy who cringed every time he stepped into the dungeon-like visitors' dressing room, gagged at the stench that forever hung in the director's lounge or watched water cascade down through stained ceiling tiles into the office complex whenever there was a downpour.

I've sliced my hand open trying to open the rickety windows in the old press box, needed a front-end realignment on my car trying to navigate the craters in the parking lot and once -- as the last man in the building after deadline -- had to roll under a metal security fence in a giant dip in the concrete just to be able to head home.

So excuse me for not being all that nostalgic about seeing the old place meet the wrecking ball.

But the new facility will have none of that run-down, lipstick-on-a-pig feel to it when it opens next month. Granted, there were construction crews all over the place on Thursday frantically working to put the finishing touches on the place and there are a lot of cosmetic touches still to be completed. Still, it's easy to see the Bombers' new home is modern and state-of-the-art in every facet.

We toured the football-operations department first. Every coach has his own office, there is a coaches' conference boardroom and a theatre large enough to seat 100 players. The locker-room is at least twice as large as their previous digs, the spacious new weight room and training facility makes the old look like something out of The Flintstones and equipment gurus Brad Fotty and Kevin Todd were like kids on Christmas morning while organizing their gear for training camp.

A solid touch was the Bombers finally reaching out and recognizing more of their history in and around the locker-room. There are 10 life-size photos of the Grey Cup along the hallway, including the date and score of the team's championships. Empty spots along the same area are already designated to recognize the franchise's greatest players. Inside the player lounge, legendary defensive-line coach Richard Harris is remembered as his daily message to the troops dominates one wall -- "Morning, Big Blue."

From field level, the facility seems enormous, but still somehow intimate. The two scoreboards weren't lit up on Thursday, but are huge. The seats are wide and feature cupholders, there is lots of leg room and not a bad view in the house. Many, many moons ago, I sat in the last row of Winnipeg Stadium with my late, great dad watching the Bombers disembowel Vince Ferragamo and the Montreal Alouettes. Remembering that, we ambled up to the last row of Investors Group Field and I can tell you the view from there is astonishing.

The private boxes offer outstanding vantage points and the concession area will be part of an open concourse that will allow fans to still watch the game, not disappear for long stretches, as at Canad Inns Stadium.

During the tour I must have used the word "unbelievable" at least 50 times. But "stunning" also fits. And "incredible," too. Most of all, I was left with a surreal feeling, a sense that the Bombers franchise has really gone from the outhouse to the penthouse.

Understandably, there will be grumblings when the stadium opens -- most likely from some of my colleagues in the media as the press box is situated at about the 15-yard line, from those that don't like the parking set-up and from that segment of our population that bitches about sunny days.

But as we exited the playing field near the end of the tour, I turned to Mr. Cameron, my tour guide, and said there was only one thing missing right now: fans. The photos I took of the stands and posted on my Twitter account don't do the stadium justice, frankly, and right now the building lacks the soul it gets from its customers and Bombers faithful.

"Just wait until our home opener," said Cameron with a grin. "We've got some big things planned and this place will be really rocking and really impressive."

We're already sold. And the fun hasn't even started yet.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2013 C4

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Updated on Friday, May 17, 2013 at 8:27 AM CDT: adds photo

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