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This article was published 25/11/2019 (528 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
CALGARY — It was the perfect ending to what at times was an imperfect season. But the Winnipeg Blue Bombers wouldn’t have had it any other way.
"It’s not the adversity. It’s what you do with it and how you learn from it," Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said Sunday, just moments removed from leading Winnipeg to their first Grey Cup championship in 29 years. "The guys were great learners and they used every bit of it to get better. Where we ended up, where we were slotted in and what we’ve done has been perfect."
The Bombers’ 33-12 victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at McMahon Stadium was as fitting as it was dominating. Few had predicted the Blue and Gold would win so convincingly. But just as they had done all playoffs, which also included a pair of road wins in Calgary and Saskatchewan, the Bombers were once again able to rise to the occasion.
Not once did they trail. They took an early 7-0 lead just 3:41 into the game and never looked back. The Bombers had their best players make big plays and all three phases contributed.
To echo what many players said on the confetti-covered field late Sunday, it was Blue Bombers football at its best.
With that, here are five take-aways from Sunday’s Grey Cup win.
1) Anyone that knows or has followed Andrew Harris’s career understands he plays the game with a massive chip on his shoulder.
That chip only grew throughout Grey Cup week, as reporters from across the country quizzed him on his failed drug test in July and subsequent two-game suspension two months later. Harris often provided different versions of the same response, spitting out a one- or two-word answer followed by a look of frustration.
On Sunday, Harris let his play do the talking. The 32-year-old Winnipeg native seemed almost possessed through four quarters, scoring both of the team’s touchdowns — one on the ground and another through the air.
He finished the night with a combined 169 yards from scrimmage. With 18 carries for 134 yards, Harris set a new franchise record for most rushing yards in a Grey Cup game and became just the second Bomber to reach the 100-yard mark in the championship game.
He was rewarded for it by being named the game’s MVP and most outstanding Canadian. It was the first time a player has been selected for both, and Harris also became first Canadian to win the top-player honours since Russ Jackson in 1969.
Harris continued his defiance after the game. In a brief interview on stage and national television, with his teammates celebrating behind him, he said, "this is for all the haters that put me down and kicked me from behind."
2) He was the biggest story of Grey Cup week and the final chapter couldn’t have been written much better.
What Zach Collaros was able to do over these past six weeks was about as incredible as it gets in the CFL. Suiting up for his third team of the season, and with the Bombers for fewer than two months, Collaros guided the Blue and Gold to four straight victories against three teams that had a combined win-loss record of 40-14.
The veteran quarterback was in his natural form afterwards, calm and collected, downplaying his role and shifting credit to his coaches and teammates. Collaros wasn’t spectacular Sunday, completing 17 of 23 passes for a modest 170 yards, but he was effective, making plays on second down and, more importantly, limiting any costly mistakes, including not throwing an interception.
"It’s not about me. I know it’s crazier for me, personally, but those guys in that locker room have worked so hard the last three or four years... I can’t really put it into words," Collaros said. "I’ve been around for five, six weeks and I can feel it, you know?"
Collaros’s past in the CFL — concussions and other injuries, his rise and fall and now rise again as a quality quarterback — has been well documented over the past few days. What should be most intriguing, though, is what his future might hold.
When Collaros arrived in Winnipeg in mid-October, there was little chance he would be back the next year. The odds are still not great, seeing that his wife and new home are in southern Ontario, but I don’t think the Bombers could have put forth a better sales pitch these past few weeks.
Because of that, I’m not ready to rule anything out just yet.
3) Few have been criticized more in this football-mad city than Bombers defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall.
Some criticism was valid, or at the very least hard to argue, especially after some of the more disappointing performances over the last few years.
But what never made sense to me was the vitriol Hall received when he had to miss two games due to personal reasons. It was later revealed he was in Denver dealing with the sudden death of his brother Michael.
Hall is about as modest a man as you’ll meet and there were few scenes as touching as seeing his face fill with tears after being handed the Cup. After all, it was Hall’s defence that did the lion’s share in the playoffs, limiting three of the league’s most dangerous offences to 14, 13 and, finally, 12 points.
On Sunday, Hall got the very best out of his group. The defence forced seven turnovers against Hamilton, with defensive ends Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat combining for five of the Bombers’ six sacks, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Hall is up for a new contract and there were conflicting reports this week as to whether he might retire. He’s had some health issues in recent years but I’m also told he’s been reinvigorated by the playoff run.
Hall has earned his shot to continue with the Bombers. They couldn’t have done it without him.
4) There was a juicy storyline from the game that went pretty much unnoticed all week. I hadn’t heard it until it was too late to ask him about it but word is Bombers offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice was sitting in the same room — and possibly even the same seat — up in that same coach’s box at McMahon that he was in for the infamous 97th Grey Cup.
You’ll remember that classic of a championship game by its well-known nickname of "The 13th Man." You know, the one where the Saskatchewan Roughriders fell 28-27 to the Montreal Alouettes after inexcusably having one too many players on the field for a game-deciding field goal. The kick missed but the flag for too many men set up a closer attempt, which was made and robbed the Roughriders of a title.
Even if LaPolice, who was the Riders’ OC, was even a little superstitious, that likely could have bothered him. Instead, LaPo called about as good a game as he has all season.
He utilized quarterbacks Collaros and Chris Streveler in the passing game, even calling a play that had run specialist Streveler deliver an 18-yard touchdown to Harris. Eight players registered a reception, with six of those reeling in at least two.
The ground attack was also executed to perfection, with Harris, Streveler and Nic Demski combining for 186 yards. I would be doing a great disservice here if I didn’t mention the Bombers’ offensive line.
The O-line was incredibly powerful and completely owned the line of scrimmage. Look no further than the 15-yard rushing touchdown by Harris in the first quarter, when the front five cleared the first 10 yards before Harris scraped for the rest.
5) Remember when Justin Medlock was contemplating retirement after a disappointing end to the 2017 season?
The Bombers are certainly happy Medlock had a change of heart and is under contract through 2020.
On Sunday, Medlock accomplished what we’ve come to expect from the 36-year-old California native. He connected on six of seven field goal attempts, tying a Grey Cup record.
It should be noted that Medlock went through a number of different holders this season and was without all-star long snapper Chad Rempel for a stretch. That was likely the reason he seemed to hit a rough patch earlier in the year, when he was even ranked near the bottom among kickers in FG percentage.
But Medlock found his groove when it mattered most. He went 26-for-27 in the final seven games and made good on all but one of his 15 field goal attempts in the playoffs.
He’s also one of the best punters in the league. The Bombers better hope he’s not one for perfect endings.
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.