December 9, 2019

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On chilly parade day, Bombers feeling nothing but warmth

Stanley Bryant seemed unfazed by the -1 C chill and insisted he had never experienced hypothermia before. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Stanley Bryant seemed unfazed by the -1 C chill and insisted he had never experienced hypothermia before. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

It's a funny thing about Grey Cup parades: Sometimes even level-headed guys like Stanley Bryant do crazy things.

On Tuesday afternoon, as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers whooped it up with thousands of fans in downtown Winnipeg, a shirtless Bryant spent more than two hours celebrating with his teammates on a semi-trailer flatbed as it lurched unevenly down Portage Avenue to The Forks.

Bryant, an all-star offensive tackle who hails from Goldsboro, N.C., seemed unfazed by the minus-1 C chill and insisted he had never experienced hypothermia before. He wasn't alone.

Also shirtless were California-born Kenny Lawler — "I'm not cold at all, I could keep going," said the wide receiver — and slotback Lucky Whitehead, who played his college ball in Florida and treated the celebration like a day at the beach.

Lucky Whitehead treated the celebration like a day at the beach. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Lucky Whitehead treated the celebration like a day at the beach. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

"Hey, it's great times," said Bryant. "Amazing day. We're Grey Cup champs. After all these years, I'm happy we finally did it. I'm happy to be part of it."

The 33-year-old Bryant has spent the last five seasons in Winnipeg. Before that he made two trips in five years to the Grey Cup as a member of the Calgary Stampeders, winning in 2014.

"This one's way more special, man," Bryant said. "A lot of people counted us out. Just happy to prove everyone wrong. And now that we're Grey Cup champs, nothing needs to be said."

For defensive end Willie Jefferson, it was a quicker road to the title.

He joined the Blue Bombers as a free agent last spring, signing a one-year deal and he received a hero's welcome on the parade route and from the podium at the The Forks.

"I've been in this league for six years and going against these fans for five of them," said Jefferson, who had two tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles in Sunday's 33-12 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. "To be able to have them on my side for one of them, it made a difference."

"It was outstanding, man, just to see the reactions of the fans who came out on such a cold day, it's snowing and in the middle of the week... for people to show... it means a lot," Willie Jefferson said. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

"It was outstanding, man, just to see the reactions of the fans who came out on such a cold day, it's snowing and in the middle of the week... for people to show... it means a lot," Willie Jefferson said. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)

Jefferson appreciated the reception.

"It was outstanding, man, just to see the reactions of the fans who came out on such a cold day, it's snowing and in the middle of the week... for people to show... it means a lot," he said. "Twenty-nine years without a Grey Cup, you wouldn't want it any other way."

Jefferson was greeted with chants of "One more year," a reference to his pending free agency.

Asked what the likelihood of re-signing with the club was, Jefferson replied: "They're making it hard not to."

During the chaos of the post-game celebrations, the Grey Cup trophy was snapped in half (with the cup separating from the base) during the trip back to Winnipeg Monday. By Tuesday, all the necessary repairs had been made in time for the festivities.

Nothing, it seemed, could put a damper on the raucous celebrations.

"It's about 10 times greater than whatever I could envision," said star linebacker Adam Bighill. "I mean, it's so special for us to share that with all Winnipeg."

Bighill arrived in Winnipeg in the spring of 2018, finding a home as a player and for his family.

"We felt the support right away," said Bighill. "It made us feel comfortable being here. I mean, I come from a small town in Washington. Very blue-collar, a lot of hard work, just people that just grind every single day. This to me feels very much like home."

Veteran offensive lineman Pat Neufeld, in his seventh year with the club, quietly soaked up the parade atmosphere.

"By far the best thing that's happened in my life," said Neufeld. "We worked extremely hard as a team, as an organization and a fan base to get to where we are today. I couldn't be happier for the fans of Winnipeg and Bombers fans all across Canada and the world. It's just an unbelievable feeling — ending that drought and finally hoisting that Cup as a champion."

Hundreds of Winnipeggers line up along Portage Ave and Main St Tuesday afternoon as they cheer on their Winnipeg Blue Bombers Grey Cup Champions as they parade through Portage Ave and Main St. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)
Bombers and fans join in jubilation on Winnipeg streets
Hundreds of Winnipeggers line up along Portage Ave and Main St Tuesday afternoon as they cheer on their Winnipeg Blue Bombers Grey Cup Champions as they parade through Portage Ave and Main St. (Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press)
Mayor Brian Bowman (right), Premier Brian Pallister (centre) pose with Dancing Gabe and Winnipeg Blue Bombers mascots Buzz and Boomer at the start of the Grey Cup parade in downtown Winnipeg Tuesday afternoon.  (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)
Mayor Brian Bowman (right), Premier Brian Pallister (centre) pose with Dancing Gabe and Winnipeg Blue Bombers mascots Buzz and Boomer at the start of the Grey Cup parade in downtown Winnipeg Tuesday afternoon. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)
Fans celebrate at the Grey Cup parade. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)
Fans celebrate at the Grey Cup parade. (Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press)
Winnipeggers are crowding the downtown streets Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, to celebrate the end of a Grey Cup drought that lasted almost three decades. The city is hosting a parade this afternoon after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won their 11th Grey Cup with a 33-12 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sunday in Calgary. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods - CP
Winnipeggers are crowding the downtown streets Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, to celebrate the end of a Grey Cup drought that lasted almost three decades. The city is hosting a parade this afternoon after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won their 11th Grey Cup with a 33-12 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sunday in Calgary. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods - CP
Winnipeggers are crowding the downtown streets Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, to celebrate the end of a Grey Cup drought that lasted almost three decades. The city is hosting a parade this afternoon after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won their 11th Grey Cup with a 33-12 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sunday in Calgary. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods - CP
Winnipeggers are crowding the downtown streets Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019, to celebrate the end of a Grey Cup drought that lasted almost three decades. The city is hosting a parade this afternoon after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won their 11th Grey Cup with a 33-12 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sunday in Calgary. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods - CP

Neufeld's 2019 season was a difficult one. After suffering a lower-body injury in training camp, he played in only six regular-season games and all three games in the post-season.

"It's hard going through that stuff when you feel like you could play," said Neufeld. "It's bad enough that you can't do it and there's some dark days but you've always gotta look forward to the light and I could lean on my teammates, I could lean on my friends and those are the guys who got me through."

Team unity was felt deeply, said Lawler.

"We fought, man, that's what we did the whole playoff run," said Lawler. "We tried to prove everybody wrong but the city of Winnipeg knew we was gonna pull it off and that's what we did."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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