HAMILTON — The positive energy exuded from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers during their in-person media availability on Day 2 of Grey Cup week Thursday was palpable.
Players were dancing at times, including CFL-leading receiver Kenny Lawler. Like Lawler, Bombers defensive end Willie Jefferson donned sunglasses indoors, the kind that WWF legendary wrestler Brett "The Hitman" Hart would wear.
It was a stark difference from 2019, when the Bombers arrived in Calgary as clear underdogs to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the collective vibe among the team was strictly business. This year the script has flipped, with Winnipeg now the favourites over Hamilton.
It wasn't a cocky feel, the players just seemed more relaxed this time around. So, I asked Bombers offensive-lineman Patrick Neufeld about it.
"It's nice knowing kind of how the week is going to unfold, having been here in 2019," Neufeld said. "Obviously, with COVID protocols it's a bit different but there's still that seriousness and high level of focus. But it's also we kind of knowing what to expect now so nothing's going to catch us off guard."
He added: "Our coaching staff, our organization does a good job of makingsure this is an efficient process for players, as much as possible, where they're trying to maximize our time preparing. They've done a great job making sure we have all we need to be successful on Sunday.
Here are some more news and notes from Thursday in Hamilton.
— I put Bombers offensive co-ordinator Buck Pierce on the spot today when I asked him if he'd ever considered being a head coach one day. Pierce, who is about as humble as they come, dodged the question a bit, noting he was happy where he is and hadn't given that a thought. But after a stellar first season as the team's OC and a reputation of being loved by his players, it won't be long before people come calling.
— As far as an evaluation on Pierce's season, here's what Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea had to say.
"He's been excellent. He's so conscientious, he thinks the game the way you need to, the way his players expect him to," O'Shea said. "He thinks about it from not only the quarterback position but all the players perspectives, too. He's a tireless worker who has been there and done it. So, he knows what he has to focus on."
— I asked Bombers special-teams co-ordinator Paul Boudreau to sum up his group this season, specifically his kicking team and the conversation shifted to having one player in charge of kicking and punting versus having different players handing one role.
"It depends on whether your field-goal guy can punt, rather than can your punter kick field goals," Boudreau said. "That's where I think people overlooked Justin Medlock's punting. Everyone looked at him as a kicker but he came a long way in his punting, to where he might not have been at the very top but he wasn't far off."
Oh, how the Bombers miss Medlock.
— In what was my first time listening in on an interview with Tiger-Cats quarterback Dane Evans, I left feeling thoroughly impressed with the 26-year-old Oklahoma native.
I knew little about him to that point, but when a reporter asked a question about societal issues, notably racism, we got to see a different side of the young pivot.
"The issue that hits closest to home is the residential schools because I'm Native American," Evans said. "My great-grandma was actually taken off her land and was sent to a residential school where they cut off her hair, changed how she talked, tried to not let her speak our language. But just like the powerful woman that she was, she persevered through it all and when she passed away in 2016, she was the last fluent speaker of our tribe."
— It's never boring talking to Jeff Reinbold, the former head coach of the Bombers in the late '90s who is now the Hamilton Tiger-Cats special-teams co-ordinator. The topic of culture versus talent on a football team came up, leading to Reinbold, unprompted, to address his time with the Bombers.
"You can create the greatest environment in the world but if you don't have talented players you're not going to win," Reinbold said. "I'll address the elephant in the room: in 1997 and 1998 in Winnipeg, we had a great environment with great guys. But we just weren't good enough and we weren't good enough at critical positions — quarterback being the first one."
The Bombers finished 7-29 under Reinbold.
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.