WYMAN: Potential free agent Willie Jefferson tells Bombers fans he wouldn't want to be anywhere else
Amid a wild, almost surreal scene at the Forks, with thousands of fans cheering, his shirtless, jubilant teammates dancing and singing after a Grey Cup win for the ages, Willie Jefferson made a proclamation that should make Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans very happy.
“I said I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here,” Jefferson said after the Bombers and their fans celebrated with a parade through downtown Winnipeg.
“I’ve been in this league six years and I haven’t had an experience like this, haven’t been with a coaching staff like this, haven’t been with a team like this.
“For me it’s all about legacy. I’m not trying to jump around the league, going from place to place. I’m trying to find a home and right now I feel like Winnipeg is my home.”
Jefferson was named the CFL most outstanding defensive player last Thursday and then had a dominating performance — three sacks, two forced fumbles — in Sunday’s 33-12 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at the Grey Cup in Calgary.
The 28-year-old defensive lineman was one of the major reasons why the Bombers finally ended their 28-season Grey Cup drought. He wreaked havoc on opposing offences throughout the season and has earned the right to be one of the highest-paid defensive players in the CFL.
Therein lies the potential rub for Jefferson and the Bombers, who would no doubt like to have him back as badly as he wants to be here.
He bet on himself and signed a one-year contract with the Bombers last off-season and he’ll surely be due a hefty raise after a season of success and accolades.
The Bombers will have to find a way to fit him under the CFL salary cap, along with the likes of Adam Bighill, Andrew Harris and one or two potential starting quarterbacks.
It will be no easy task, but it’s clear Jefferson and his family hope it happens.
“I couldn’t be happier to be here and have these fans,” Jefferson said. “I’ve been in the league six years and I’ve been going against them for five of them. Being able to have them on my side for one year, it made a difference.
“It was outstanding today to see the reaction of the fans. For them to come out here, on such a cold day, it’s snowing, in the middle of the week … for people to show their support like that, it means a lot. After 29 years without a Grey Cup, you wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Tuesday was a day like no other in Winnipeg since 1990, which was the last time the Bombers won the Grey Cup.
It was a party that started at Hargrave and Portage and wound its way past Portage and Main and eventually to the Forks, where appreciative fans congregated to sing We are the Champions, chant “MVP, MVP,” for hometown hero Andrew Harris and sing the old Ole, Ole, Ole song with “O’Shea, O’Shea, O’Shea” as alternative words.
They chanted “One more year” when Jefferson was on the stage, and did the same thing when quarterback Zach Collaros got up to speak.
The players, many of whom had not slept since Sunday’s game ended, screamed and shouted, danced, body-surfed, crushed beers and carried on a party that had been going on for some 40 hours.
There’s so much love for the Bombers in this city right now — and the feeling is clearly mutual.
“I thought it would be crazy today but it’s about five times crazier than I actually expected,” Bighill said, his son A.J. perched on his shoulders. “It was nuts.
“It means everything because this is what you play the game for — these experiences, these championships that go down in history.”
Bighill has been in the CFL for eight seasons and spent one year in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints. He won a Grey Cup in 2011 as a CFL rookie and didn’t win again until Sunday, at age 31.
Perhaps what struck Bighill the most about this Grey Cup-winning experience was just how many people it took to make it happen — and just how sweet it is to celebrate with each and every one of them.
“It’s special to be a champion because there’s only one team that can experience this a year and everyone else goes home a failure,” Bighill said.
“Things like this don’t come around often, and when they show up, you have to take advantage of it. That’s what’s special. The journey that we took to get here, how every single person brought their effort, was special.
“I’m not just talking about just the guys on the field, I’m talking about practice roster, about the guys that are hurt, our training staff, everybody who was part of the collective effort to win this thing. That’s what it’s all about.”
TIME TO GET SOME SLEEP, FELLAS
The champagne flowed in the locker room on Sunday night and many beers were consumed by players during Tuesday’s Grey Cup championship parade through downtown Winnipeg.
Players were drenched in the stuff after the joyous celebration on Sunday, one that seemingly carried on all through the night, through Monday and right up to Tuesday’s rally.
“I have not had any sleep,” Bombers defensive back Brandon Alexander said, 40 hours after the game ended. “I was excited for today and the reason is because the fans have been waiting for 29 years. It’s great to see them so happy.”
One player who didn’t partake in the boozing was linebacker Adam Bighill, who has never had a sip of alcohol in his mouth.
“I don’t drink, but I will partake in some Monster energy drinks, that’s for sure,” Bighill said.
Many of the Bombers will leave Winnipeg on Wednesday.