Possessed Harris leads Bombers to Promised Land
CALGARY—The scene at McMahon Stadium Sunday night was surreal, even incongruous.
Players in Winnipeg Blue Bombers uniforms, standing on a stage and passing around what looked an awful lot like the Grey Cup.
Another on the same stage doing snow angels in blue-and-gold confetti.
Behind the stage, a stranger handing Willie Jefferson their baby, just for kicks.
To the side of it, Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea being bear-hugged by a stranger wearing garbage mitts and a yellow fireman’s helmet.
“I love you O’Shea!” the man yelled, and O’Shea hugged right back.
“I didn’t just hug him — we kissed,” O’Shea would say later.
These things happen when you’re celebrating like the Bombers haven’t celebrated in 29 years.
Grey Cup champions, 2019, after a 33-12 mauling of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats — from the Southern Manitoba Bible Belt to God’s Lake, from Westman to the Whiteshell, this might take a while to sink in.
“It’s surreal,” Winnipegger Andrew Harris said amidst the chaos next to that stage. “It’s amazing. When your hard work is rewarded, it’s an amazing feat. We’ve been counted out all year. Even for myself, I’ve been counted out, disrespected. It’s just a dream come true.”
Harris had just played like a man possessed, which I guess he was.
Possessed with a fire fanned by being doubted and called a cheater after his failed drug test midway through the season.
“Pissed off,” is how quarterback Zach Collaros described his teammate.
From the moment he sprinted the length of the field carrying a team flag in the introductions, No. 33 was wired.
So wired he knocked down his own teammate, Johnny Augustine, when Augustine returned to the bench after making the tackle on the opening kickoff return.
From there, Harris was relentless.
Running over or picking his way around defenders on the ground, splitting them to catch a touchdown pass – the 32-year-old looked like a man hell-bent on not only making a statement to his detractors, but shouting it from the foothills.
His 2011 Grey Cup win with B.C. paled in comparison to what this one meant.
“This is for all the haters that put me down and kicked me from behind,” he told the audience immediately after scoring both Winnipeg touchdowns and lugging the ball for 134 yards, the most ever by a Blue Bomber on the final Sunday of the CFL season.
The media may have taken the regular-season individual player awards from him, and his own peers a spot on the players’ all-star team, but no one will be able to take away a championship.
That Harris swept the Grey Cup awards, the Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Canadian – something that’s never been done before – was the icing on the cake.
“The sweetest thing in my life,” he said.
Harris paid the price for his screw-up. Served a two-game suspension, while maintaining he’d been the victim of a tainted supplement.
As for the taint on his legacy, time will tell.
But there’s plenty of shine, too: the man became the first Canadian to win the Grey Cup MVP award since Russ Jackson, half a century ago.
When the final gun sounded, the scene was fitting: Harris turned and there was fellow Winnipegger and Oak Park High School product Nic Demski, ready for the most meaningful embrace two athletes can share.
“He went crazy today,” Demski said of the man he calls his big brother. “This really all started off with him. This whole Grey Cup run. He’s the one who changed the culture around here. It means a lot that we’re champions together.”
Going against a Tabbies squad that went 15-3 during the season and had won eight straight games, the Bombers had more snarl from the start.
“Show ’em how great we are!” linebacker Adam Bighill yelled during the pre-game warmup, and his defence did just that, coming out of the gate like a dragster running on nitro.
It didn’t slow down until crossing the finish, a line 28 years long.
“It’s everything we ever wanted,” Bighill said. “We did this for all of Manitoba, all of Winnipeg, all the Blue and Gold fans across Canada. I re-signed because I knew we were close to winning a championship. And we did it. It feels so damn good.”
The celebration moved to the locker-room, Jefferson putting that baby down long enough to shout up to former Bomber Milt Stegall in the TV booth.
“Hey Milt!” Jefferson shouted. “Come on down to Winnipeg!”
In the locker-room, more surreal scenes.
Quarterback Chris Streveler was whooping it up with a pair of shades on his face, a lit cigar shoved between his lips.
Winston Rose, also looking cool in sunglasses, was dancing on a locker-room seat, a can of Bud Light in his hand.
Bighill pulled out his phone, and conducted a selfie interview with Rose
“How does it feel?” he asked.
Rose didn’t have to answer.
It felt unlike anything anyone in Winnipeg has seen in a long, long time.
“I love you, Winnipeg,” Bighill said. “I love you Manitoba. This is for you guys. I told you it was comin’ home.”