CALGARY — Well, wasn’t that a party?
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers capped off a heck of a week in Calgary with a commanding Grey Cup victory Sunday night over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. And, considering I was covering my first three-down championship game, the personal bar has been set ridiculously high for all future events.
With the celebration still going strong in 'Peg City — and yours truly en route to California to cover this week’s three-game Winnipeg Jets road trip — let’s empty the notebook, and the brain, with some notes, quotes and anecdotes following a memorable experience.
Full disclosure. I had no rooting interest in this game. Yes, I picked the Bombers to win in my column Saturday. But that came from the head, not the heart. The only thing I ever cheer for is a juicy story — and there’s no question the Blue and Gold's first Grey Cup victory since 1990 is a doozy.
I also enjoy seeing my hometown happy, so, in that sense, I have a soft spot for long-suffering fans who are on top of the world right now. I covered enough misery and mayhem in more than two decades on the crime-and-justice beat, so being able to tell some tales that I know put a smile on people’s faces is not a bad thing in my books. Plus, our city and province could sure use a pick-me-up these days, and the Bombers delivered in a big way.
Actually, I lied. I also cheer for a fast-moving game with no overtime, where the outcome is clear early on. Helps with deadlines, you know. And when Dane Evans’ first pass attempt of the game was picked off by Winnipeg’s Brandon Alexander, well... I had a strong sense of how the rest of the night was going to play out.
The Bombers defence is something to marvel at, a ferocious, physical bunch that makes life miserable for opponents. Funny that it’s led by by one of the kindest, gentlest humans you’ll ever meet in defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall. The sight of him in tears following the win, thinking of his brother, Mike, who died of a heart attack last month, was powerful stuff.
I thought a lot about Randy Turner. He would have absolutely loved to see all of this. And our longtime Free Press colleague, who died of cancer last March would, no doubt, have had us all in stitches with his in-game tweets. We all miss him dearly. Randy’s name came up a lot this week, and he is certainly not forgotten.
(Cowboy) hats off to the Grey Cup organizers. Every event I attended — from the CFL awards to media day to practices and walk-throughs and daily gab sessions to the big game itself — ran smoothly. Plenty of friendly, helpful volunteers, well-organized shuttles and food at every turn. So, so much food.
The only issue, clearly beyond their control — the venues. The Saddledome, site of the awards, is showing its age, a thought that crossed my mind as we sat inside a stuffed, sweltering dressing room that doubled as the media centre. A new barn can’t come soon enough. And McMahon Stadium, while filled with plenty of history and nostalgia, isn’t exactly up to today’s modern standards. It had the most crowded press boxes I’ve ever seen — with numerous scribes not even allowed in, forced to watch on television monitors and report from a room adjacent to the field. Not a complaint. Just an observation.
It sure makes you appreciate what we have in Winnipeg with IG Field and Bell MTS Place.
My own tip of the cap to a very patient Bombers legend Dieter Brock, for allowing me to re-interview him last week, a few hours after discovering our half-hour phone chat hadn’t properly recorded on my computer. Whoops.
Brock was a great sport about it, and I really enjoyed taking a trip down memory lane with him — twice, as it turned out — about the 1984 Grey Cup clash between his former team in Winnipeg and his new team in Hamilton. That game, a 47-17 rout for the Bombers, was his final match in the CFL.
Around the city itself and away from the main events, there wasn’t as much of a Grey Cup buzz as I thought I’d see.
I suspect the Stampeders coming up short played a big role, as did the fact their closest football neighbours in Edmonton and Regina were spectators as, well. That also likely accounted for what appeared to be a few thousand empty seats Sunday. Bombers fans were noticeable and loud, especially during the weekend, while Tiger-Cats supporters were there but in much smaller pockets. No question a Winnipeg-Hamilton matchup took a bit of the sizzle out of the event for local residents.
Couldn’t help but feel bad for Bob Irving, the legendary voice of the Bombers, who was a healthy scratch for the Grey Cup call because TSN owns the national rights. Not having him providing the soundtrack to history just seems wrong. But a pretty good consolation prize for Bob, who watched the victory from the stands with his family before hitting the CJOB airwaves for the post-game show.
Speaking of the radio broadcast, not a fan of the petty move pulled by the Bombers leading up to the game. Darrin Bauming of TSN 1290 was set to be the sideline reporter, a well-deserved honour for a guy who follows this team as closely as anyone. But the Bombers, apparently miffed at the fact Darrin didn’t vote for Andrew Harris for year-end awards due to his performance-enhancing drug suspension (nor did Free Press colleague Jeff Hamilton and Ted Wyman of the Sun), pulled a power move and had him punted.
As for Harris, he really doubled down on his anger towards anybody who doubts his claim that he unknowingly took a tainted supplement. If you missed it, Harris dedicated his Grey Cup Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Canadian awards to the "haters" and invited anyone who "kicked me when I was down... you know where to stick it."
Here’s the thing, Andrew: A little humility can often go a long way.
Last one on Harris. As we waited to head on to the field for the championship celebrations, an ugly scene broke out between some Winnipeg fans and Postmedia columnist Steve Simmons, who wrote a piece on Sunday arguing that Harris shouldn’t have been allowed to even play the game. I don’t agree with the scorching hot take whatsoever, but I’ll certainly defend Simmons’ right to his opinion.
When some folks recognized Simmons, they launched a profane verbal barrage that got extremely heated. Simmons stood his ground, although it’s safe to say his explanation was falling on deaf ears. Fortunately it didn’t escalate beyond words.
I used to get lots of hate mail, even threats, over crime stories I’d write. And while the volume and overall tone has significantly improved since moving to sports four years ago, I’m occasionally reminded how seriously some people take it and how worked up they can get. Just not used to seeing it play out in real time like that. Typically it’s from the anonymity of a computer keyboard.
One final nugget. Really proud of our Free Press team, which covered this event with a blanket, both on the ground in Calgary and back home in Winnipeg. Hopefully you enjoyed reading our work as much as we enjoyed bringing it to you. In a career that is about to start its 25th year next spring, this was an assignment I definitely won’t forget.
Enjoy the parade. I’ll be watching from sunny California. And let’s try and do this all over again next November in Regina, shall we?
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Monday, November 25, 2019 at 7:06 PM CST: Adds images
8:47 PM: Fixes typo.