Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Andrew Harris celebrates winning the 107th Grey Cup against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, November 24, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol

A championship 29 years in the making

A prairie transplant's perspective on the Grey Cup

It’s been five days since it happened, and I’m still not used to the way it sounds: the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are Grey Cup champions.

To many on the West Coast, that may mean very little, or it may mean a lot.

The Blue Bombers, and in particular, the Canadian Football League, certainly has its followers, but the further west one goes from the prairie city, the focus becomes less on the team, and football in general, and more about the Canucks, how much it’s been raining or the lineup at the ferries.

On Sunday evening, this former Winnipegger was cheering so loudly following the Bombers’ Grey Cup win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, that it could be heard three provinces away.

Or at least at the neighbour’s house next door.

To the neighbours, I apologize, but I believe I have a good excuse: it was 29 years in the making.

I had just turned 10 years old the last time the Bombers won the Grey Cup. I don’t remember much from the last celebration, short of a rolled-up souvenir poster of the team tucked away in a storage box.

I do remember going to Bomber games with my dad – something I was doing with consistency since I was eight years old at the former Winnipeg Stadium. I don’t remember many of the players, but quarterback Sean Salisbury stood out as someone who led the team to a championship (in 1988).

Dressed in a #16 Matt Dunigan jersey years later, I remember sitting on the upper deck on the west side (Bomber bench) watching a raucous crowd cheer the team and Dunigan on as he set a CFL record of 713 passing yards in a game against the Edmonton Eskimos. We didn’t get a Grey Cup, but that was certainly the talk of the town that year.

I remember growing up with the team – a birthday was spent at a fan appreciation day lining up for autographs on the old grass portion of the stadium; attending a woman’s football clinic hosted by the club so I could fully understand the intricacies of the game (a rouge!) and I even applied for a high school work experience program to volunteer in the front office.

To me, I didn’t think twice about being a girl cheering for a football team. I didn’t think twice when, being a six-foot-tall athlete in Grade 11 (and taller than anyone in my class), I asked if I could try out as a receiver for the local football team (they said no because it would be too difficult to find a women’s change room on game days).

My passion for the game didn’t diminish.

Moving to Vancouver Island more than a decade ago, I cheered for my Bombers from afar. There were times when, like with so many sports teams, things looked bleak. The team did make it to the Grey Cup since 1990 but had little success. Years went by without the coveted championship.

But on early Sunday evening in Calgary at McMahon Stadium, former Vancouver Island Raider Andrew Harris helped the Bombers win the 107-year-old championship.

To add icing to the 29-year-old cake, Harris became the first Canadian to be named Grey Cup MVP since Russ Jackson of the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1969.

On Monday afternoon, the team returned to the Winnipeg airport with the cup in hand. And how appropriate it was when the top cup broke off from its base in front of hundreds of fans waiting for their team’s return.

They broke the drought, the streak and now the Cup itself. That seems about right.

Erin Haluschak is a reporter with the Comox Valley Record newspaper and a lifelong football fan. She can be reached at photos@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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