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EN ROUTE TO CALGARY — The blue-and-gold-haired lady was in the fifth row.
It was impossible to miss her, sticking out like a synthetic, Technicolor thumb amidst a sea of baseball caps and sly comb-overs peaking over the headrests nearby, at the front of the cabin of WestJet Flight 261 to Calgary from Winnipeg.
On a normal morning, the sight of such bombastic hair might force a few slack-jawed stares from fellow travellers. But Thursday's flight was anything but an ordinary one for Susan Chadwick, who was flying west to see her beloved hometown football team compete in the Grey Cup, seeking its first title in nearly 30 years.
Darn right, she was going to let her (fake) hair down.
Underneath her wig, Chadwick's true brunette coiffure poked out, but her fandom extended to a bright blue, personalized "Chadwick" jersey, with No. 49, in honour of her local Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps. She means business, so consider this her business attire.
Chadwick has attended every Grey Cup Winnipeg has played host to since becoming a CFL fan in the 1970s, and has in the stands for 10 of the last 11 league championship games. Her first memory — not just her first football memory, but first memory — is seeing Bombers head coach Ray Jauch sending defensive tackle John Helton onto the field.
"That's the picture in my head," she told the reporter sitting next to her.
Though it would be hard to be more visibly excited than the anything-but-camouflaged Chadwick, the atmosphere in the airliner cabin was clearly one of terrific anticipation for what was to come after the landing. Even the pilot — responsible for delivering Chadwick et al to the Alberta city where three decades of missed Bombers opportunities could soon be rectified — couldn't resist expressing himself.
"I'm pumped because I'm a born Winnipegger, and a Bomber fan for life," he said, grabbing the intercom near one of the six emergency exits as outlined in the literature in the seat pocket in front of Chadwick. "(Sunday is) going to be a great day."
The flight crew wasn't immune either, doling out blue foam mini-footballs, plastic to-go cups covered in Bombers references, and most importantly, Richardson International Airport-branded seat warmers for fans to place on their cold chairs at McMahon Stadium come game time.
"Go, Bombers! Go!," one flight attendant chanted over the speaker, leading a short rendition as the jet began rolling along the tarmac.
Three rows behind Chadwick sat Ron Margolis, a commercial mortgage executive, wearing a golden, plastic construction helmet with a Bombers 'W' on either side. Margolis said wore the helmet to the 1984, 1988, and 1990 Grey Cups, all won by Winnipeg.
"It's been to three victories, hopefully, soon, a fourth," he said. He put on the helmet early Thursday, and doesn't plan on taking it off until well after the final whistle, should the Bombers prove victorious.
In the 15th row, Michael and Lynne Guertin wore a little less ostentatious Bombers gear: windbreakers, hats, and scarves, with a blue carry-on tucked in the luggage compartment above. The couple bought Grey Cup tickets when Winnipeg's record was 8-2, confident the club once led by Jack Jacobs and Ken Ploen might return to its championship-winning ways.
"I've been through so many heartbreakers. We've gotta do it this time." ‐ Blue Bombers fan Susan Chadwick
(The Bombers finished 11-7 before dispatching the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders in the playoffs. On Sunday, they face East Division-champion Hamilton Tiger-Cats.)
As Thursday's flight went on, the blue-and-gold-haired lady began reading The Colour Purple. She took her coffee with cream, and opted for cookies over pretzels.
She wasn't concerned her bright display of fandom would jinx her favourite football team, not fearing any superstition.
"I've been through so many heartbreakers," she said. "We've gotta do it this time."
Once the plane touched down in Calgary, the cabin once again started cheering. Chadwick grabbed her bags, thanked the crew, and walked through the tunnel into the airport.
At the gate, her mane was met with double- and triple-takes by passengers waiting for their flights. Nearby, a man in a Roughriders jersey stared, likely wishing he could feel what Chadwick was feeling.
Then, No. 49 disappeared into the Calgary International Airport. The blue-and-gold-haired lady had places to be.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.