CFL Pass

Harris does heavy lifting to help Bombers end Grey Cup drought

CALGARY – Having just unleashed his fury on the CFL’s regular season heavyweights, Andrew Harris still had a couple more swings to take Sunday night.

Shortly after friends and family members lifted him from the turf at McMahon Stadium to hoist him on their shoulders chanting “M-V-P,” Winnipeg’s star of the 107th Grey Cup addressed the topic that chased him all the way here.

“To everyone who kicked me while I was down, you know where to stick it,” said the 32-year-old Blue Bombers running back, whose two-game suspension for a positive drug test was one of this season’s biggest talking points.

“There’s been a lot of negative attention about what has gone on. And for me to accomplish that – that’s for everyone who wrote an article, said something on Twitter or said anything to anyone. I wanted to come out here and play my best game. I was able to do that today.”

His two touchdowns and almost 100 yards of offence in the first half was essentially all the Bombers would need to end a 29-year Grey Cup drought. By night’s end, the product of a troubled upbringing in Winnipeg was almost chiefly responsible for running out the clock against a 15-3 Hamilton Tiger-Cats club that was outclassed in every way.

Harris, the league’s top rusher, denied knowingly taking a performance-enhancing steroid in August called metandienone, but was subsequently snubbed by voters as CFL MOP and top Canadian.

On this day they couldn’t deny Harris again, as his 134 yards on the ground, 35 yards receiving and two majors made him the story of the night. As the first player ever to win the game’s top Canadian and most outstanding player awards, he felt a wave of redemption he wasn’t shy about addressing following the 33-12 win.

“It’s been the hardest thing I ever had to deal with in my life – to have your integrity questioned,” when asked about the chip on his shoulder he carried like a “giant boulder” into the game.

“Obviously I care a lot about being a professional athlete. I’ve been through a lot of adversity to get to where I’m at. It was a tough moment in my life. It showed me a lot about myself, my surroundings, who really cares and who is really there for you. As negative as it was – I’m not happy it happened – but I took a lot from it. I definitely want to drop it and get it behind me, but it’s never going to go away. It’s my reality. Everyone is going to take their shot when they want to take their shot. I’ve taken lots of shots.

“It’s like 50 Cent – shoot me nine times and I’m still going to get up.”

Harris and his 11-7 Bombers completed their improbable run as underdogs in all three post-season games, piecing together a game plan executed largely by late-season addition Zach Collaros.

Embodying the ferocity that marked the career of their coach, Mike O’Shea, the Bombers caused the Ticats to turn the ball over seven times, including an interception that set the tone three plays into the game.

Winnipeg’s offence kept the Ticats’ top-ranked defence off-balance in front of a pro-Bombers crowd of 35,439 with a playbook that included throws, runs and even a catch from co-quarterback Chris Streveler. It was Streveler who found Harris in the endzone with a 21-yard strike late in the first half to help put their club up 21-6 midway through.

Meanwhile, Collaros managed the game well, going 17-of-23 for 170 yards and no turnovers.

Harris did the heavy lifting.

“It’s crazy,” said Harris, who jumped from junior football to the CFL at age 20 as part of a career that saw him go from the B.C. Lions to his hometown to set his sights squarely on ending Winnipeg’s Cup drought.

“The city is very passionate about our team and they’ve been hungry and thirsty for this win and this trophy. I just did a radio interview and they said Portage and Main is shut down – I hope they can keep it closed until we get home.”

Played in temperatures hovering around zero degrees most of the night, the win allowed Chris Matthew to finally put his pants back on and share a moment with the coach.

Eighteen years after the recent media darling vowed he’d only wear shorts until the Bombers won a Grey Cup, the retired school teacher finally got to warm up.

“I got a picture with him wearing pants – he put them on,” laughed O’Shea, before turning his attention to his MVP.

“It’s a really neat story isn’t it. I’m sure it’s going to be told over and over. I’m very proud of him. He faced his own personal adversity this year and he’s held it together extremely well. He’s done a fantastic job at staying focused and honouring his teammates with what’s important.”

When told the last Canadian to win the Grey Cup MVP was Hall of Fame quarterback Russ Jackson, O’Shea beamed.

“Russ was pretty good, wasn’t he?” he said.

“So is Andrew. He’s a stud. He’s the best for a reason.”

So are his Bombers.