It's almost time to get the costumes, masks, and body paint ready.
The recognizable characters in Section 141 at IG Field were overjoyed to hear Monday's announcement that there will be a 2021 CFL season after all. Nothing's been confirmed yet, but when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers kick off the season by hosting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Aug. 5, it could be the first time in 650 days die-hard fans will be in the stands to cheer on the Blue and Gold.
"I was working and I was fairly busy so my girlfriend actually bumped me on my shoulder and told me to check my phone," said 32-year-old Sean Schmatkow who's better known in Bomberland as Bomber Fan Ted. Schmatkow, a Ste. Anne native who works for a rural internet service provider, has been wearing a teddy bear costume in the rowdy section for the past four seasons.
"I was on a call with a customer and I looked and I was so excited, but I couldn't say anything or let it out because I was on the phone with somebody and trying to be professional. But as soon as I got off that call, I ran upstairs and I just started screaming my patented 'Wooo!' throughout the house... My alter ego (Ted) is definitely eager to get out of its cage here."
Schmatkow isn't the only Bombers fan with an alter ego, as Section 141 also features Bomber Woman, The Golden Boy, Bomber Reaper, and Bomber Vixen, just to name a few. With the 2020 CFL season getting axed due to the pandemic, and months of uncertainty in regards to whether or not a 2021 campaign would happen, Schmatkow wondered if he'd ever get to reunite with his cheering partners again.
"I thought about a lot of those people. I don't know them personally and they don't know me as Sean, they know me as Bomber Fan Ted and we only see each other on game days," Schmatkow said.
"That's a lot of friendships and relationships that could've been lost if the CFL couldn't move forward."
A lot can change between now and kickoff. It's still unknown what game day will look like at IG Field this year. The Bomber Reaper, 52-year-old Michael Ludwig, who proposed to his wife Lisa, the Bomber Vixen, in 2002 at a game at Canad Inns Stadium, knows things won't quite be the same this season. There'll likely be a capacity limit among many other health and safety protocols. But if given the choice, the Reaper, who dons a gold mask, and the Vixen, who wears a superhero outfit, won't think twice about going to a game.
"We just want to be in that stadium. We've been to the Bomber Store in the past year or so and you look into the stadium like a little child looking into a toy store," said Ludwig, who lives south of La Salle.
"You say 'Hey, there's our seats!' but you can't get to them or get that interaction with the players and things like that."
Jason Bond made his debut as The Golden Boy at the 2007 Labour Day Classic in Regina. Since the Bombers moved into their new digs at IG Field, the Portage la Prairie resident has consistently appeared at home games painted head to toe in gold theatre makeup paint, impersonating the iconic statue that sits atop the Manitoba Legislative Building. His pre-game routine is more thorough than most players, never mind fans, as it takes two hours to get himself painted, followed by an hour drive to the stadium. To no one's surprise, his post-game routine features a long, long shower.
The cancelled season provided him with a much-needed break, but he's more than ready to crack open the paint this year.
"The pros were I saved a ton of money. I saved a lot of paint, saved a lot of time and effort from putting the makeup on and I got to attend what summer events I was entitled to. The negatives, the cons, I really missed the (Bomber) family," said Bond, 39, a manager at a Manitoba Liquor Mart in Portage la Prairie.
"I have little nieces who were just getting involved in it and were taking pride in their uncle being The Golden Boy for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. That I missed a lot. The family, the interactions, and we're all itching to see the (2019 Grey Cup) banner lifted and scream 'Yeah, we did it!' I guess since the social after the Bombers won the Grey Cup, I guess that was the last time I saw my family. All Blue Bomber fans are my family. We're united as one."
Bombers president and CEO Wade Miller has said the team will hold off on raising their 2019 championship banner until they can pack IG Field with 33,000-plus fans. Whether that ends up happening this season or not, it's something Section 141 is already daydreaming about.
"It's going to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments that you totally don't want to miss out on," said an emotional Schmatkow.
"Celebrating something that special and raising that championship banner in front of all of those fans, those players, the coaches, and everyone who puts in all that work, it'd mean a lot. Sorry, I'm tearing up."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.