Bombers fans out in full force

Emotional night for more than 29,000 supporters after 650 days without home game

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 05/08/2021 (489 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Welcome home, Bomber fans.

Goosebumps. Tears. Smiles.

It was an incredibly emotional night for those who packed IG Field for the first CFL game in Winnipeg in 650 days as their beloved Blue Bombers hosted the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to open the season.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been this excited in my life,” said 38-year-old superfan Tina Antonation, better known as ‘Bomber Woman’ as she’s been proudly wearing a Bomber-themed Wonder Woman costume to games for three seasons.

“There was always hope in my heart that this was going to happen. But to get that announcement that we were coming back Aug. 5 (at full capacity for fully vaccinated fans) really shook my world. I don’t know if I’ve ever been this excited in my life. It doesn’t feel real. It really doesn’t. We walked around the entire lower level and I’m still in shock right now.”

Winnipeg Blue Bomber fans packed the stands at IG Field for the return of the CFL. (Alex Lupul / Winnipeg Free Press)

The occasion even had some Bomber fans showing up in style. For Kevin Dodge, a 49-year-old who’s had season tickets for 30 years, that meant dusting off his 1971 Winnebago for some pre-game tailgating with family and friends.

“Hard to believe, but this thing came from Saskatchewan. It had green carpet, but it’s now blue and gold. We saved it from Saskatchewan,” Dodge said with a laugh.

“We took it to Labour Day (in Regina) all the time. That’s why we got a party bus. The stories this thing could tell.”

But the motorhome, which has also gone under some decorating on its exterior as it’s decked out in Bomber decals, hasn’t been used to create stories since 2019.

“This is a big deal. We started it up and I was emotional, man,” said Dodge. “We had to bring it to this. This is more than a game. I think we’d all have to agree.”

The return of the CFL meant Woody Heywood could finally enjoy his 2008 Honda Fit on gameday. He spray-painted the car blue and the hubcaps gold, stencilled ‘Bombers #1’ on the side, and has a homemade Grey Cup and Bombers helmet bolted onto the roof. Heywood was cruising around the stadium before kickoff so his fellow Bomber supporters could enjoy the vehicle with him.

Ken Dodge borught out his 1971 Winnebago for some pre-game tailgating with family and friends (Taylor Allen / Winnipeg Free Press)

“When we won the Grey Cup in 1984, my buddy and I did a car like this. And then, you know, I was young and stupid and I totalled it,” said Heywood before pointing out that the helmet is from his original Bombermobile.

“We had it for a year and a half when we won the Grey Cup in 1984 and I always wanted to do it again. I told my wife, if we get another car, which we did a year and a half ago, (I wanted to make another Bomber car)… You could drive this thing somewhere and say ‘Hey, paint it up for me and I’ll pay you this,’ but I do it all myself. That’s part of the fun.”

Heywood took the car for a couple drives in the past year, but he couldn’t enjoy it to the fullest as the pandemic erased football from the calendar.

“You get used to not doing anything. I never miss a game and then when we couldn’t do it last year, you know, it was weird. But now that we can do it, it’s awesome,” said the 58-year-old Heywood, a season ticket holder for more than 30 years.

There were 29,376 fans at IG Field and they had something to cheer about before the game even began as an 11-time Grey Cup champions banner was unveiled prior to kickoff. It was a longtime coming for Scott Riffel, a 28-year-old diehard fan with season tickets in the rowdy section in the north endzone.

Woody Heywood painted and decorated his 2008 Honda Fit in tribute to the Blue and Gold. (Taylor Allen / Winnipeg Free Press(

“During the pandemic I had my doubts that live sports would ever be a thing again and tonight has restored my faith that not only live sports will be a real thing again, but that so will normal life,” Riffel said.

It wasn’t a sellout crowd, as some Bomber fans tweeted out that they just weren’t quite ready to gather in a crowd this size. But Colleen Shepherd, who has seen the worst of the pandemic as she works as an MICU nurse, felt safe on the night. Shepherd has been buying season tickets since the days of the old stadium.

“You know what, I know it’s been a long time, but it just feels like we’re back to normal again,” Shepherd said at halftime. “It feels like we’re right back to where we were before and I feel safe because everybody’s vaccinated.”

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Bombers fans were decked out in blue and gold to celebrate the team's return to the field. (Alex Lupul / Winnipeg Free Press)
Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
Reporter

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...

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