O'Leary: Harris was a man on a mission in Grey Cup win
For a freshly-crowned Grey Cup champion, Zach Collaros was surprisingly low key.
Throughout his post-game media session, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ quarterback managed to only go slightly above the subdued vibe he gave off all week, leading up to the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw.
It was the final question of the night that made him crack and appropriately it was about the game’s Most Valuable Player and its Outstanding Canadian.
“He was pissed off,” Collaros said of Andrew Harris, who had 134 rushing yards, 35 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Bombers’ dominant 33-12 win.
“I love that dude. He was just awesome. He’s always focused.”
For Harris, the source of the anger was obvious.
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A positive drug test for metandienone, announced on Aug. 26 came with a two-game suspension.
The Bombers’ star running back has denied knowingly taking anything and maintained that the result was due to a contaminated supplement.
Criticism followed Harris the rest of the year, from players within the league, from fans and media. He came back from his suspension and led the league in rushing for the third consecutive season. Without the positive test he likely would have been named the league’s Outstanding Canadian, maybe even its Most Outstanding Player. Instead, the Winnipeg native didn’t make it past the first phase of voting, submitted by head coaches and members of the Football Reporters of Canada.
On Sunday in Calgary, Harris took control of the one thing that couldn’t be voted upon. He was absolutely dominant, taking his first handoff and powering his way into the end zone from 15 yards out, rewarding the Bombers’ defence for forcing a fumble on the previous play. It was 7-0 less than four minutes into the game.
Harris was just getting started.
He didn’t just run the ball on the Ticats. Every step, every broken tackle felt like the 32-year-old was making a statement. He was on a mission and he wasn’t hiding it. He was strutting after moving the sticks, rolling his arms over each other after he rolled over opponents. There was a duck walk-type dance after one play in the first half.
In the second quarter, he slipped behind the Ticats defence and fell to his knees in the end zone to pull in an 18-yard heave from Chris Streveler. The convert put the Bombers up 18-6. They didn’t know it at that point, but that was all of the offence they would need on the day.
By the final horn, there was no question about who would get the votes this time.
Harris is the first player to win the MVP and MOC in a Grey Cup and the first Canadian to win MOP since Russ Jackson did it with Ottawa in 1969.
“To me, it’s been a lot of negative attention about everything that’s gone on,” Harris said at the post-game interview table.
“For me to (win both honours), that is for everyone that wrote an article or said something on Twitter or said something to anyone.
“I just wanted to come out here and play my best game and I was able to do that. I’m just proud of my teammates for supporting me and my friends, my family. This was a big game for me and I wanted to play my best.”
You could see that anger in Harris from time to time through the Bombers’ incredible playoff run, where they became the first team since the 2005 Edmonton Eskimos to win all of their playoff games on the road. There were occasional lash-outs on Twitter when people would debate his situation. He answered questions on it during Grey Cup Week but clearly didn’t appreciate the topic recurring.
“It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my life, to have your integrity questioned,” Harris said.
“I care a lot about being a professional athlete and I’ve been through a lot of adversity to get to where I’m at.
“It’s just a tough, tough, moment in life and it showed me a lot about myself and my surroundings and who really cares and who was really there for you.
“As negative as it was I’m almost…not happy that happened but I took a lot from it. I’ve grown as a person from this and it’s one of those things where I’m going to look back on this and be a better person from it.”
“Andrew is a baller. I don’t know if they forgot about him or what,” said Bombers’ receiver Nic Demski, also a Winnipegger.
“I knew he wanted to have a big game. He’s been waiting patiently and he went crazy today.
“He’s been here since 2016. He’s kind of the one who changed the culture around here. The organization did a great job of adding bits and pieces in and we just made it work.”
Harris acknowledged that even in the best moment of his professional career — he was the key piece in the game that gave his hometown its first Grey Cup since 1990 — that question, that test result is a part of the conversation with his name.
“I definitely want to drop it and then get it behind me but it’s never going to go away,” he said.
“I’m just I’m just happy to come out on top. Everyone that kicked me when I was down, you know where you can stick it.”
He got up from his interview, picked up the ski goggles that championship-winning teams give out to players to protect their eyes and went back to his teammates. On Sunday night, Andrew Harris gave his city and the Blue Bombers something they hadn’t had in almost three decades and no one can take that from him, or them.