It will be the largest gathering in Manitoba since the pandemic began.
It will be the first CFL game played in 620 days.
And last, but not least, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will unveil their 2019 Grey Cup championship banner in front of their diehard fans.
What a night for a hometown kid to make his first professional start.
That's the story tonight at IG Field as running back Brady Oliveira will carry the rock against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats since Andrew Harris is out with a calf injury. Oliveira, a 23-year-old second-year player who missed the majority of the 2019 season with a broken ankle, has zero CFL carries to his name.
So Oliveira, are you nervous?
"I think the nerves are gonna be there for everyone. But you gotta check yourself and flush those nerves. After that first play, get those nerves out," Oliveira said after Wednesday's walkthrough.
"We’re here to play football. Obviously, everyone’s got to make their first start and this just so happens to be my first start coming tomorrow. So, I’m just obviously super excited for the opportunity and grateful for it."
Oliveira, a second-round pick in the 2019 CFL Draft out of the University of North Dakota who rushed for 980 yards on 161 carries and eight TDs in 11 games as a senior, knows he has big shoes to fill. After all, Harris 34, has led the CFL in rushing for the past three seasons. But Oliveira isn't going to try to be Harris out there.
"Andrew’s Andrew, I’m Brady. We’re two different types of people. My game is going to be completely different than Andrew’s," he said.
"When I’m out there running, blocking, and catching the ball, it’s not going to look like 33. It’s gonna look like No. 20... I’m gonna go out there and play Brady football... It’s brought me to a high level and I’ve had lots of success with it... I’m a north and south runner, I’m a physical runner, I can catch the ball out of the backfield. I’m gonna do all the things that have gotten me this far in my career."
Replacing Harris doesn't entirely fall on Oliveira's shoulders, though. Johnny Augustine, a Niagara Falls, Ont., native who filled in admirably for Harris during his two-game suspension in 2019, will likely get a chance to contribute, as will versatile receiver Nic Demski. The Bombers haven't been shy about handing the ball off to Demski — who played high school ball at Oak Park just like Harris and Oliveira — before.
"All Canadians, man. I think that right there is just super exciting," Oliveira said.
"It’s the CFL, the Canadian Football League...You have a bunch of great Canadian football players you’re able to witness. Obviously we all have our different attributes that we bring to the field and I think we’re all very exciting players so I think it’ll be a fun game."
Harris isn't the only key piece out for the Bombers as veteran wideout Darvin Adams is sidelined with a shoulder injury. Taking his place will be Charles Nelson, who, like Oliveira, has never started on offence and missed most of 2019 with an injury. Quarterback Zach Collaros admitted it will be a challenge without Harris and Adams, but he believes Oliveira and Nelson are up to the challenge.
"It’s definitely going to be a big adjustment for me. Even though it’s been a small sample size, having a guy like Darvin, a guy like Andrew, guys with lots of CFL experience, experience in this offence, and obviously they’re great players. But having two guys that have been out there definitely brings a calm to the huddle when it comes to the quarterback position. It’ll be different but I’m really excited for (Oliveira and Nelson) and they’ve had great training camps."
Oliveira has 16 tickets set aside for family and friends and he's working to get more. He grasps the magnitude of this game and how much this night means to people not only in this town, but the entire country. Oliveira's approach to handling the pressure remains simple.
"Most of us have been playing this game of football for years now and you just gotta treat it like it’s another game," he said.
"I’m obviously truly excited for the game, but you know, I’m just gonna stay cool, calm, and collected and treat it like another game."
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @TaylorAllen31
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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