FRIESEN: Bombers championship parade a long time coming
CALGARY — The world really is turned upside-down.
I know this not only because the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are staging a Grey Cup championship parade on Tuesday, but because of what happened in the bedlam that took place at McMahon Stadium on Sunday night.
With blue, white and gold confetti everywhere, players, fans and family members high-fiving and shouting in celebration, Bombers president/CEO Wade Miller gave me a hug.
Not a glorified back-slap type of half-hug, but the full, two-armed deal.
“You don’t hug me,” I protested.
“I don’t care,” Miller said.
And with that, everything bad I’d ever written about the man and his favourite football team was forgotten.
At least, in the moment.
“It’s unbelievable,” Miller said of the scene around him, and what it signified.
This is a Winnipegger who played for the Bombers for 11 years, 1995-05, smack dab in the midst of The Drought, wringing out a ridiculously long career for someone of his size and talent.
Six years ago, he took his pit-bull’s mentality to the president’s chair and clamped his teeth on the front office, the stadium operation and the football operation, shaking them almost beyond recognition.
Then a funny thing happened. He became patient.
Despite two initial seasons that produced a 12-24 record and a third that got off to a 1-4 start, Miller stood pat. And stood pat again despite one playoff victory over the next three years, and plenty of grumbling from the paying customers.
On Tuesday, he’ll cruise down Portage and Main to nothing but cheers, along with the only head coach and GM he’s ever had.
“It’s fantastic,” Miller said. “So proud of what our coach has accomplished and our general manager and the entire organization.”
Tuesday’s parade is a long time coming for Paul LaPolice, too.
He was also amidst the bedlam at McMahon, inviting his Winnipeg-born wife Tina up onto the stage, beaming like it was their wedding day.
LaPolice’s first two go-rounds with the franchise – as an offensive co-ordinator under Dave Ritchie, a head coach under GM Joe Mack – ended badly, but the third time was the charm.
“As somebody who’s worked here three different times… to be able to finally win and be part of breaking the drought, it feels awesome,” Coach LaPo said. “For these players that I spend so much time with, but also for all the people. They’ve been great to me and my family. Outstanding moment.”
Coach LaPo was at his best on Sunday, using every page of his play book: jet-sweeps to Nic Demski to counter the usual healthy dose of Andrew Harris, an 18-yard end-zone shot from backup quarterback Chris Streveler, even a pass from receiver Darvin Adams to Streveler for a first down.
At the controls, the perfect operator in Zach Collaros, who in the last two games dissected two of the teams that let him go: the Green Riders in the West final and the Tabbies in the Grey Cup.
“What were they calling it, the Revenge Tour?” a grinning Collaros told reporters, post-game. “We finished it. It’s over. It was the last show.”
A trade-deadline pickup, Collaros says he recognized pretty quickly that if he just learned Coach LaPo’s offence and didn’t try to do too much, things would probably work out pretty well.
“It’s not about me,” he said. “I know it’s a crazy year for me, personally. But those guys in that locker-room worked so hard the last three, four years. Coach O’Shea getting his guys ready – I can’t really put it into words, man. It’s a really special group.
“A lot of you guys have been around it for a long time. I’ve only been able to be around it for five or six weeks, and I can feel it. I’m just so happy for those guys.”
Of course, a quarterback is only as good as his protection, and Collaros had plenty of that, from people like Jermarcus Hardrick, a Mississippi native in his fourth season with the Bombers.
“We’re champions forever,” Hardrick said. “No matter what happens, no matter what they can say… we’re champions forever. If you look on that Grey Cup, even when I die it’s gonna be on there: 2019.”
Linemate Pat Neufeld has been dreaming about this moment since he was a kid in Regina.
Tuesday he’ll be cheered like a native son on the streets of Winnipeg.
“Literally a childhood dream come true,” Neufeld said. “Been watching the CFL since as long as I can remember. I’ve watched every Grey Cup since I can remember. I’m just so happy for my teammates and this organization. And for every Bomber fan who stuck with us for 30 years. This is for them.”
In lockstep with the offence, the defence also peaked at the right time.
“From 14 (points) in Calgary, to 13 in Saskatchewan to 12 today,” safety Brandon Alexander, the leader of the secondary, said, post-game. “It’s been 29 years, and we brought it home. I’m overwhelmed right now, I’m not gonna lie to you.”
And on special teams, from Justin Medlock’s record-tying six field goals to global player Thiadric Hansen’s crushing hit on a kick return.
Hansen was wearing a sizable chain around his neck during Sunday’s locker-room celebration, engraved with tiny numbers.
“We got that for our defensive co-ordinator. For Richie (Hall),” Hansen said. “It’s got all the numbers of the defensive players. Stay together, stay strong. We pass it around. I just took it today.”
He earned it.
“A statement for Germany,” Hansen said of his hit. “Show my power and everything, you know? Make them notice that I’m in the Grey Cup.”
Oh, they probably noticed back home.
If they look closely on Tuesday, they’ll see a ruckus being made of it in the downtown of a Canadian prairie burg that’s been waiting a long time.
A city turned upside-down.
After the hug, I had one question for Miller.
Where’s the parade?
“I don’t care,” he said again. “But there’s a parade.”
Everybody loves a parade.