January 21, 2020

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Let the Grey Cup festivities begin

Things to keep an eye on during last week of CFL season

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers punching their ticket to the Grey Cup after a thrilling 20-13 road win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sunday, I have decided to do things a little differently this week.

Rather than looking back, in what’s been a weekly routine where I dissect five takeaways from the previous game, let’s ride the momentum here and instead look ahead. There will be plenty to dissect and debate over the next week, as Grey Cup festivities kick off in Calgary today, beginning with the arrival of the Bombers and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats — the CFL’s West and East division winners, respectively.

With that, here are five things CFL enthusiasts — and even the casual observer of the three-down game — will want to keep an eye on this week.

 

1) Head coaches’ media conference — Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.

Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea.

While both teams are scheduled to arrive in Cowtown late Tuesday afternoon, the official festivities don’t really get going until Wednesday. And the first thing on the agenda is always the head coaches’ media conference.

This year, it will be Winnipeg’s Mike O’Shea and Hamilton’s Orlondo Steinauer who will be sitting across from one another. The two have a lot in common and a long football history together, including being teammates for nine seasons in Hamilton and Toronto (2000-2008) and again as coaches with the Argonauts for another three years (2010-2012).

Where they differ, though, is how they interact with media.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Orlondo Steinauer.

PETER POWER / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Orlondo Steinauer.

While Steinauer can be a fountain of information, O’Shea tends to keep his cards close to his chest. But perhaps a former teammate, and one as outgoing as Steinauer, can bring out the best in O’Shea.

Either way, it’s a great way for both coaches to set the stage for the week. There’s also the famous tradition, which first began with the late Toronto Sun columnist Jim Hunt and has since been taken over by Edmonton scribe Terry Jones, where the coaches are asked whether they allow their players to have sex in the days leading up to the big game.

The answers — often awkward and usually hilarious — are worth the price of admission.

 

2) CFL awards gala — Thursday, 8:30 p.m.

Eight of the 12 nominees for league-end awards will be playing in Sunday’s game, including three from the Bombers.

There’s a good chance at least one of Willie Jefferson (most outstanding defensive player), Stanley Bryant (most outstanding offensive lineman), and Mike Miller (most outstanding special teams player) will leave the night with some hardware. All three are up against Tiger-Cats players, with defensive end Jefferson battling the CFL’s leading tackler in linebacker Simoni Lawrence, right tackle Bryant against fellow O-lineman Chris Van Zeyl, and Miller looking to edge returner Frankie Williams.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers Stanley Bryant has won the CFL's award for most outstanding offensive lineman the last two years and is in the running to win again this year.

JASON FRANSON / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Blue Bombers Stanley Bryant has won the CFL's award for most outstanding offensive lineman the last two years and is in the running to win again this year.

For Bryant, it’s a chance to win the award for a third consecutive year. For Jefferson, he gets a shot at redemption after being edged by Bombers linebacker Adam Bighill as last year’s West nominee (Jefferson was a Rider then), which was as close a ballot as they come.

As for Miller, you’d just have to look at where he grew up (Riverview, N.B.) to find out what kind of guy he is. A good east coaster who epitomizes rough-and-tumble football, Miller is finally getting the recognition he deserves.

 

3) CFL commissioner’s state of the league address — Friday, 9:30 a.m.

It’s the moment in the week where reporters from around the country do their best to make the CFL boss sweat.

Canadian Football League Commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JEFF MCINTOSH

Canadian Football League Commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

Indeed, the annual state of the league address is the perfect opportunity for commissioner Randy Ambrosie to tell scribes how great the CFL is, only for them to turn it around by challenging him on everything that’s gone wrong over the last year.

Hot topics always include player safety; why the CFL can’t seem to take hold in Toronto; why officiating and the command centre always seem to struggle with consistency; and, special to this year, where the heck is a written copy of the new collective bargaining agreement?

Oh, and there’s a good chance we’ll hear about what’s been going on with CFL 2.0, the league’s global strategy that now has players from many regions of the world playing the Canadian game.

For those who will be at the event, there’s a chance to have your voice heard, with Ambrosie hosting a fans’ state of the union address just two hours later. That one usually goes a lot smoother.

 

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Hamilton Ti-Cats in the 1984 Grey Cup in Edmonton.

(CP PHOTO/ FILE)

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers defeated the Hamilton Ti-Cats in the 1984 Grey Cup in Edmonton.

4) 107th Grey Cup – Sunday, 5 p.m.

There probably aren’t two better teams to meet for a chance to win it all than the Bombers and Tiger-Cats. Both clubs have gone far too long without a championship, with Winnipeg coming up on 29 years and Hamilton Grey Cup-less since 1999.

Hence, the game is being properly dubbed The Drought Bowl.

It’s also been quite some time since these clubs have met in the Grey Cup — in big part because they were both in the East for decades — with the last time being in 1984. The Bombers, who were heavily favoured, won that game 47-17.

This year, the Blue and Gold are the underdogs. Hamilton was the class of the CFL in 2019, leading the way with a 15-3 record. They also defeated the Bombers (11-7) in both games this season, by a combined 28 points.

Regardless, the game should be another classic to cap a stellar CFL post-season.

 

5) Who’s coming to Cowtown?

With an early exit for the Calgary Stampeders in the West semifinal and the Bombers’ resurgence in the playoffs, I’m curious to know how many people might be looking to ditch their tickets and how many might fall into the hands of Bombers fans.

The Blue and Gold faithful always travel well, and since it’s the first Grey Cup the team has been in since 2011, along with the chance to snap the ugly streak, perhaps a sea of blue could be heading west. Though it’s impossible to predict at this point, being one of the league’s — and country’s — best cities, I highly doubt Calgary will disappoint.

For those who haven’t experienced a Grey Cup and are going this year, it’s an incredible experience, made only greater by the people who regularly attend. Few events feel as Canadian as Grey Cup week, and there’s no shortage of things to do.

Fair warning, though, Roughriders fans always represent, so pack some Gravol if just the sight of green makes you queasy.

Finally, I’m always looking to share good Grey Cup stories, so if you’ve got one shoot me an email. Otherwise, enjoy yourself, play safe and have fun.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

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.

Read full biography

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History

Updated on Monday, November 18, 2019 at 11:08 PM CST: Updates photo

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