Winnipeg Blue Bombers win Grey Cup in Calgary
The drought is over. Finally, it’s really, really over.
After 29 years of frustration, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are – finally – Grey Cup champions once again.
Maybe that’s worth saying once more, just for good measure: The Blue Bombers are the 2019 Grey Cup champions.
There have been so many ups-and-downs over the past three decades, so many moments when the Bombers came oh-so-close before suffering heartbreak after heartbreak.
On Sunday night in Calgary, though, there was no such drama.
The Bombers took the field at McMahon Stadium and were superior to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from the opening whistle and cruised to a 33-12 victory.
Against a Ticats team that finished with the best record in the CFL in the regular season, a Bombers team that many had written off in October was simply dominant.
Defensive ends Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat seemed to completely ignore whatever Ticats offensive linemen were in front of them and left a trail of destruction that will go down in Grey Cup lore.
The Winnipeg defence forced three turnovers in the first quarter alone, and didn’t let up. They forced seven total turnovers by game’s end, all but shattering any chance the Ticats might have had.
“They were incredible,” Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros said. “Seven turnovers is unheard of in any game, let alone a championship game. From third-and-one stands to strip sacks to guys rallying to the ball. I don’t think we ever had a doubt that they were going to have an amazing game and do their job really well because of the way they practice and prepare, but just an amazing job by them.”
Offensively, Collaros kept his incredible end-of-2019 resurgence alive. He completed 17-of-23 passes for 170 yards, while running back Andrew Harris was the best player on the field and earned the game’s Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Canadian awards.
On special teams, returner Janarion Grant busted out a couple big returns and the Bombers coverage team largely limited Frankie Williams. Bombers kicker Justin Medlock hit six-of-seven field goals, tying a Grey Cup record.
The Ticats might have been the best regular season team in the CFL and they may have dominated the Edmonton Eskimos in the East Final, but they were completely and totally outclassed by a Bombers team that has seemed totally consumed with exceeding expectations ever since they acquired Collaros in early October.
Acquiring a new starting quarterback with less than a month to go in the regular season isn’t supposed to work. It’s called the hardest position in sports for a season; you’re not just supposed to be able to slot a new guy in there. That’s especially true of a guy like Collaros who suffered a concussion in Week 1 of the season while he was playing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He was traded to the Toronto Argonauts soon after. The Bombers were his third team.
And yet, on Sunday, Collaros wasn’t just making the easy throws. In what may have been offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice’s masterpiece, the Bombers ran an offence that seemed nearly impossible to predict from play to play.
Somehow, in less than two months, Collaros seemed to have mastered a complicated, championship-level CFL offence. Add in backup Chris Streveler’s contributions running the ball, and the Bombers looked unstoppable at times.
“We’re so thankful that we got him and he’s such a competitive guy and he’s so smart,” said Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. “He fit in so well, so quickly. I don’t know that there’s many other guys that could do that.
“That story should be written and told over and over again for a lot of years, because it’s a fantastic story.”
The Ticats certainly didn’t do themselves any favours, though, especially not early.
Dane Evans – who completed 16-of-27 passes for 203 yards for the Ticats while throwing two interceptions and a touchdown — threw a pick that was brought down by Bombers DB Brandon Alexander on the Ticats’ very first passing play of the game.
The Bombers didn’t immediately capitalize, but it was a harbinger of things to come.
When the Ticats next got the ball back, Willie Jefferson atoned for a roughing-the-passer penalty on the previous play by sacking Evans and forcing a fumble.
The Bombers recovered deep in Ticats territory, and then smashed it into the end zone with a 15-yard run from Harris.
After two turnovers on two drives, the Ticats did manage to settle things down and respond with a field goal.
A missed field goal by Medlock resulted in a single to make it 8-3, and when the Ticats began driving downfield it felt, for a moment, as if we might be in for a game.
That feeling didn’t last long.
The teams traded field goals to start the second quarter, but then the Bombers took over.
First, Streveler found Harris in the end zone for a beautiful 18-yard touchdown. Then, the Ticats hit another field goal right before halftime.
The score was suddenly 21-6 and in just 10 minutes of game time, we’d gone from a matchup that seemed like it was going to be tight right until the final matchup into, seemingly, a rout for the Bombers.
The Bombers just aren’t a team you want to fall behind against. They’re too good on the ground. Too capable of running down the clock.
The Ticats found that out the hard way.
The Bombers’ first drive of the second half took four minutes off the clock. It only ended with a field goal, but when you’re down by double-digits, losing that much time to mount your comeback hurts.
The Ticats drove the field as soon as they got the ball, but for a second time, their drive ended when the Bombers stuffed them on a third-and-short.
With Banks, the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player, going out with a hamstring injury in the third quarter, the odds continued to get worse and worse for the Ticats.
“If they can control the time of possession and not get behind, they’re a very hard team to beat,” said Ticats linebacker Simoni Lawrence. “They do have a very creative running game, they’ve got two quarterbacks, so change of pace and stuff like that. If the game’s close, they’re very tough and you can’t give away possessions to teams like that.”
The Ticats would score another touchdown when Evans found Bralon Addison for a four-yard score, but would never get closer than being down by 12 points.
Just like the Bombers had done against the Calgary Stampeders in the West Semifinal, they took control and never relinquished it. Just like they did against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West Final last weekend, the Bombers got huge defensive stops when they needed them – or created turnovers, again, there were seven of those. Seven!
An offence that had sometimes looked anemic in the regular season was dynamic with Collaros behind centre.
It all added up to a night that couldn’t have gone much more smoothly for a Bombers team that had fought and scrapped through injuries and adversity all season.
Maybe that’s the Winnipeg way, and maybe that’s what made these Bombers such a fitting group to end their city’s long drought.
One way or another, the Bombers finished the job on Sunday, doing what they couldn’t do so many times before.
“It’s crazy,” Harris said. “This city is very, very passionate about our team. They’ve been hungry and thirsty for this win.
“It’s indescribable. It’s a dream come true. To be able to accomplish it is a dream come true.”
The drought is over. Winnipeg has a champion to call their own.