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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/7/2017 (1000 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A story on Sportsnet’s website portal this week described the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as having "the league’s most beautiful stadium and worst home-field advantage."
Not, mind you, about the most beautiful stadium in the league part. While dumping on Investors Group Field has become a local pastime — and there will forever be legitimate complaints to be made about its location — those gorgeous tapered canopies are nothing short of artwork, a visual masterpiece from up close and afar.
New Mosaic Field in Regina is shinier; Montreal's Stade Molson has more character; TD Place in Ottawa is surrounded by a super-fun mixed-use neighbourhood; and recently renovated B.C. Place is, well... in Vancouver.
But for sheer eye-candy appeal, IGF is a looker.
No, the part I disagree with is Sportsnet’s contention that the Bombers have the worst home-field advantage.
On the contrary, I would submit that the Bombers have a monstrous home-field advantage at IGF; it’s just that, well... they haven’t been taking advantage of it.
And that’s why it was so refreshing Thursday night to see both the possibilities of IGF and this 2017 edition of the Bombers playing to their fullest potentials in a gritty 33-25 victory over the Toronto Argonauts.
After a dismal 29-10 loss to Calgary in the home-opener a week earlier, the Bombers gave the fans something to get excited about Thursday night and the fans, in turn, returned the favour.
I’m not sure what it’s like in the main grandstand or the upper deck at IGF because, sadly, the only seat I’ve ever had at the new stadium is in the press box, which is the worst place in any stadium or arena to actually enjoy a game.
But when things get really crazy at IGF, I’ve noticed over the years that there is what I can only describe as something between a vibration and a shudder that travels through the suite level when tens of thousands of fans transform into a tsunami of sound.
No, it’s not a construction flaw, although there have been plenty of those. It’s those unique canopies doing what an architect way back told me they would do: capture the noise and energy of the crowd, harness it and and then reflect it back down towards the field.
The Bombers players have told me again and again over the years that they feel that hum all the way down on the field and it’s why even visiting teams have reluctantly conceded IGF is the loudest building in the league, even on nights, such as Thursday, when huge swaths of seats are empty.
Just 25,085 turned up for the Argos game. That’s a dismal showing after more than 30,000 witnessed the Calgary stampede last week, but it’s also a monument to just how resilient the Bombers' core fan base really is.
After all the abuse this franchise has put its fans through over the years — and then the disappointment again of that gutless season debut at home — the number of occupied seats was more noteworthy than the number of empty ones.
A quick tangent: there’s a website that tracks American politics called fivethirtyeight.com. I like to check in there periodically, because they run a daily tracker of Donald Trump’s approval rating. On Friday, the tracker found a stunning 55.1 per cent of Americans disapprove of the job Trump is doing, but what I always find much more interesting is the other number — the 39.2 per cent who thought he was doing a good job as of Friday.
Think about that: After all the chaos, craziness and sheer madness of the first seven months of Trump’s presidency, nearly four out of ever 10 Americans believe the guy’s doing a hell of a job.
It occurs to me that the 25,000 or so faithful at IGF Thursday are a bit like that group of Trump supporters: their belief and support is so deep as to be almost unshakable, no matter how many times their hearts are broken.
And those fans, even more than the stadium, are why the Bombers have a massive home-field advantage — when they're able to take advantage of it.
That suite level "shudder" was humming just below the surface for most of Thursday's wildly entertaining game. I’ve never had more fun watching two teams exchange 10 field goals; judging by the decibel levels, 25,000-plus agreed with me.
But the shimmy became a full-on shake late in the fourth quarter and, for my money, played a huge part in stalling the Argos' game-tying drive that ground to a halt on Winnipeg's 20-yard line. Toronto QB Ricky Ray struggled to hear himself think, much less make himself heard.
The Bombers, their fans and their stadium came together in that pivotal moment in a way that has been all too rare over the years at a place where there have been many more disappointments than celebrations.
Thursday’s victory was just the 12th time the Bombers have tasted victory in their own stadium, a complete joke, considering the team moved into IGF in time to start the 2013 season.
The stadium has been a house of broken dreams for the Bombers and their fans; Saskatchewan is the only team in the league that the Bombers have a winning record against at home.
Winnipeg is now 3-3 at home against the Argos and 2-2 against Montreal and B.C. The rest is a nightmare: 1-2 against Ottawa; 1-4 against Hamilton; 0-5 against Edmonton; and 0-6 against Calgary.
But that’s not evidence of a lousy home field advantage — that’s evidence of a team that plays lousy at home.
And that included last year, when the Bombers posted an impressive 11-7 regular season record overall, but still managed to lose more often than they won at home (4-5).
Winning teams, in any sport, in any league, do a couple things consistently well: they win the close games and they win at home.
The Bombers did both things Thursday night and in the process put both the full potential of their stadium and their organization on display.
The free agents brought in over the years to make a difference made a difference: receiver Weston Dressler was spectacular, again; running back Andrew Harris ran for two TDs; and kicker Justin Medlock kicked four field goals on a night his Argos counterpart, former Blue Bomber Lirim Hajrullahu, kicked six.
Quarterback Matt Nichols didn’t throw any TD passes, but what mattered more in this game was he also didn’t throw any interceptions. His longest pass of the night? A 50-yarder fired into the stands as the final gun sounded, a redemption strike for a guy who put the loss to Calgary — and the two interceptions he threw in it — on himself.
And, a defence that got pushed around in the first half by Ray and the Argos finally found its game — and, hopefully, its identity — in a stifling second half.
And the Bombers fans? Well, when I looked up from my computer 10 minutes after the final gun, some IGF security guards were draped all over Toronto running back James Wilder Jr., who was trying to get into the stands in the north end zone to get at some Bombers fans who’d stuck around after the game to taunt the Argos as they left the field.
On a night the Bombers got the better of the Argos, so too did their fans.
It’s a winning combination. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.
But it begins with the winning and there’s been far too little of it, for far too long, at IGF.
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.
Updated on Friday, July 14, 2017 at 3:46 PM CDT: corrects typo