January 18, 2020

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Emotions run high among Grey Cup fans at tailgate party

CALGARY — Steinbach's Brady Friesen could hardly wait to get to McMahon Stadium Sunday.

The opening kickoff of the 107th Grey Cup, featuring the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats, wasn't set to happen until 5 p.m. CST, but Friesen arrived at McMahon Stadium just before 9:30 a.m. on the day his team might finally break its 30-year championship drought.

Ben Waldman / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>Brady Friesen was one of the first fans to arrive at McMahon Stadium on Sunday.</p>

Ben Waldman / Winnipeg Free Press

Brady Friesen was one of the first fans to arrive at McMahon Stadium on Sunday.

"It's been such a long drought, and I knew I had to take in the full day," said Friesen, 24, wearing a Milt Stegall jersey.

"(In 1990) I wasn't even born yet," he said. "There's a whole generation of Manitobans who have no idea what it feels like to win the Grey Cup, and I'm probably going to burst into tears if that happens."

Thousands of CFL fans made the pilgrimmage to McMahon on Sunday. And like Friesen,many at the pre-game tailgate were hoping to cry tears of joy for the first time in a long time.

Wearing a tiger-striped plush robe, Nick Javor — a self-professed Hamilton fan since he was wearing diapers — said a victory for the Tiger-Cats would be like Christmas coming early.

Asked who would win the Grey Cup, Javor replied, "I can't even believe you're asking that question. How much will Hamilton win by, that's what you should be asking."

Ryan and Glen Wilgosh, a father-son duo who made the drive to Calgary from Beausejour, said the win would mean more than any simple answer could describe. The last time Winnipeg won, Ryan, 26, wasn't alive.

Hundreds of fans around the Wilgoshes could relate: Hamilton and Winnipeg are the two teams in the CFL with the longest active championship droughts. The Ticats' last win wasin 1999. The teams' fan bases have suffered, and tonight, one will have something to celebrate.

Ben Waldman / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>Hamilton fan Michelle Poitras had her game face on.</p>

Ben Waldman / Winnipeg Free Press

Hamilton fan Michelle Poitras had her game face on.

Nearby, Rochelle and Arthur Samuel were getting ready to attend their first-ever CFL game, where they'd be cheering on their son — Bombers linebacker Kyrie Wilson — in his pursuit of one of Canadian sport's most-hallowed trophies.

Coming from California, the Samuels were bundled up, not used to the chilly weather. Asked about potentially seeing Wilson hoist the Cup, Arthur said it would mean everything to him.

"It would be worth us being in this cold weather," Rochelle added, laughing.

Marty and Lei Hole, former Winnipeggers who now live in Medicine Hat, had a dilemma on their hands when deciding who to cheer for. Lei's cousin, Aaron Crawford, is the Hamilton long-snapper. She wore a Hamilton jersey, and Marty wore a Bombers one.

Calgary's Sean McFadden hasn't been suffering for as long as some of the other fans in attendance. "I've been a fan of the Bombers for a while," he said. "About two weeks."

Ben Waldman / Winnipeg Free Press</p><p>At the tailgate, Sean McFadden’s golden locks couldn’t bear the wind.</p>

Ben Waldman / Winnipeg Free Press

At the tailgate, Sean McFadden’s golden locks couldn’t bear the wind.

He said he's cheering on behalf of his aunt and uncle in Winnipeg, two lifelong fans who McFadden said are due for a reason to celebrate.

Eight-year-old Parker Reuther was born in October 2011, about a month before the Bombers' last appearance in the Grey Cup championship. He said that the Bombers would win.

"They're kind of better than the Tiger-Cats," he said. "I've seen a lot of people who like the Tiger-Cats so far, and their chant sucks, and their team does too."

Corrinne Bourgeois-Thibert, her face painted blue and gold, said that no matter the result of the game, she'd likely be crying at the end of the night.

Only time will tell whether her and other Bomber fans' tears will be happy ones — for the first time in a long time — or the same kind that they've been wiping away since 1990.

ben.waldman@freepress.mb.ca

Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman
Reporter

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

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