It should come as no surprise that long-suffering Winnipeg Blue Bomber fans are praying for a fairy-tale finish in Sunday’s 107th Grey Cup game in Calgary.
The Bomber faithful have spent the past 28 years — and counting — hoping against hope for a happy ending that has never come.
On Sunday, the Canadian Football League’s longest active championship droughts go head to head, as the Bombers, who haven’t sipped champagne from the Cup since 1990, tackle the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, whose last taste of glory came in 1999.
Hope sprang anew for weary Bomber fans at the start of this season, as pundits made the beleaguered Blue and Gold an early favourite to win Earl Grey’s silver mug, the symbol of football supremacy in the frozen North.
But dreams of heading to the ball and leaving with the CFL’s equivalent of the glass slipper were soon shattered by a season-ending shoulder injury to starting quarterback Matt Nichols.
Enter Prince Charming, in the form of well-travelled, often-concussed QB Zach Collaros, who in just six weeks as a Bomber has breathed new life into fading hopes, and put the home side one game away from slaying a dragon they haven’t been able to vanquish since Brian Mulroney was prime minister.
Since his arrival in October, the football gods have clearly been smiling on Mr. Collaros. In his lone regular-season start and two playoff games, he’s given Winnipeg fans something they haven’t seen in years — an aerial attack that can terrify opposing defenders.
Fans and analysts alike, with no hint of irony, began talking about the Bombers as a "Team of Destiny" after an upset victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in a western final that was as thrilling as it was improbable.
In an edge-of-your-seat fourth quarter, the Roughriders were on the Bombers’ doorstep three times and failed to produce a touchdown. Then, on a third-and-goal with four seconds left, as this city held its collective breath, a last-gasp pass from Riders QB Cody Fajardo bounced off the crossbar and the underdog Bombers were back in the Cup.
As in any good fairy tale, there are no shortage of subplots in Sunday’s matchup. Foremost is the fact the Bombers’ new champion will be trying to conquer the very team he guided to the title game in 2014, a 20-16 loss to Calgary, in his first year as a starter.
Standing on the other side of the field will be this story’s version of the Evil Dragon, in the form of Tiger-Cats linebacker Simoni Lawrence, the man who gave Mr. Collaros his latest concussion with a nasty hit to the head on the first drive of the season-opener when Winnipeg’s new hero-in-waiting was still in Saskatchewan.
Mr. Lawrence was suspended for two games, and Mr. Collaros didn’t play another down until he arrived in Winnipeg last month via a trade-deadline deal with the Toronto Argonauts.
And now he’s looking to cap his comeback with a Cinderella finish in the Grey Cup, which is no mere game to Winnipeg fans. The blue, white and gold flags flickering in the wind above city hall and Portage and Main attest to how desperate this city is to reclaim Canadian football’s holy grail.
This Sunday, Mr. Collaros and his new teammates will try to write the final chapter of what feels like a classic fairy tale. Fans here deserve nothing less than their first Cup of the new century — because, over the last 28 years, they’ve kissed more than their share of frogs.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.