It's your Cup, Winnipeg: O'Shea pays back Bombers fans for being made to feel welcome
As they paraded through downtown on Tuesday, Grey Cup in tow, smiles as wide as a Canadian football field on their faces, members of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers looked out and saw upwards of 10,000 fans cheering them on.
It was noon on a workday, a bit chilly, snowing, and few people seemed to care.
Grey Cup titles don’t come along very often in Winnipeg and people were in a mood to party along with the Bombers, who were holding their first championship parade since 1990.
“They’re thanking us but we should be thanking them because we work in a place that cares about football,” said Bombers offensive co-ordinator Paul LaPolice.
“That’s a really important thing. To see success and to have them appreciate it is awesome.”
Once the procession passed through Portage and Main and reached the Forks, Bombers coach Mike O’Shea got up on stage and told the crowd that the gratitude they feel from fans is overwhelming and will last forever.
“As a community and a city, you guys have made us feel so welcome,” he said, speaking on behalf of his family. “Moving here six years ago, we sold everything, we burnt the boat and we moved up here and it’s been fantastic.
“It’s your Cup, Winnipeg.”
The Bombers players celebrated in so many ways, singing, dancing, bouncing up and down, smoking cigars, raising the Grey Cup over their heads.
Quarterback Chris Streveler was shirtless and sported a white cowboy hat and fur-esque coat. Many other players were bare-skinned as well, despite the minus-2 C temperature.
O’Shea even got in on his act, opening his sweatshirt to reveal what he was wearing underneath.
“You might not see this in the back, but underneath here I’m wearing a very small 1990 Grey Cup champions shirt,” O’Shea said. “Time to get some new gear.”
FIRST TO GET THE CUP
Jake Thomas had no idea he was going to be the first Bombers player to touch the Grey Cup on Sunday night.
But on an O’Shea-coached team, the longest-serving player is going to get recognized and Thomas was asked to receive the storied trophy from CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie on the field at McMahon Stadium.
“I was in awe,” said Thomas, a 28,-year old defensive tackle from New Brunswick, who just completed his eighth CFL season.
“It truly shows how much an organization can value you for how long I’ve been here. I was just looking forward to getting a chance to touch it. I can’t believe I was the one who was able to represent the team and get it first from the commissioner.”
Thomas said the wonder continued on Monday when 1,000 fans showed up to greet the Bombers at the airport and thousands more turned out for Tuesday’s parade.
“Way beyond anything I expected,” Thomas said. “This city knows how to put on a parade. It’s a great party.”
IT ALL PAID OFF
General manager Kyle Walters rode along with president and CEO Wade Miller during the parade.
Walters has been with the Bombers since 2010, spending his first three years as special teams co-ordinator, becoming assistant general manager in 2013 and taking over when Miller fired Joe Mack later that same season.
Walters hired O’Shea to become the head coach in 2014 and the trio, sometimes called the Canadian Mafia, took a slow and patient approach to building a Grey Cup contender.
All that paid off with Sunday’s win.
“We’ve been working on this and working on it and this is what we envisioned,” Walters said. “It took a little longer than we thought or hoped, but it’s unbelievable.”
Walters said he was shocked by the fan turnout at the parade. Sometimes it’s hard to know just how much your team means to a community until you do something really special.
“Grey Cup parade, you don’t know what to expect,” Walters said. “The amount of people and the excitement … it was an unbelievable experience. The city wanted this clearly and I’m so happy the family could experience it.”
One person who was front and centre on the stage Tuesday was quarterback Matt Nichols, who missed the Grey Cup because of a shoulder injury.
Nichols has, however, played a huge role in building this Bombers team, serving as the starting QB from early in 2016 through the first half of this season.
“I wasn’t able to finish the season but building this thing has been frickin’ incredible,” Nichols said.
His future with the team is uncertain — he can become a free agent in February — but Nichols has been a good soldier and deserves to share in the credit for the Grey Cup win, even if Zach Collaros was the starter in the big game.
There were five players from Winnipeg on the stage at the Forks on Tuesday and one can only imagine how incredible it must feel for them to have been a part of ending the 29-year Grey Cup drought.
Running back Andrew Harris, receiver Nic Demski, linebacker Thomas Miles, offensive lineman Geoff Gray and running back Brady Oliveira all had a chance to celebrate something even their parents hadn’t seen in a very long time.
“Today really is the day that it sunk in,” Demski said. “We came home with the championship, we came home with the Grey Cup, we put it in front of the city and it’s all love, man. I’m just so proud to be a part of this.
“It’s amazing man.”
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