The Winnipeg Blue Bombers finally ended the CFL’s longest active Grey Cup drought on Sunday night, by hoisting that cherished silver football prize for the first time since 1990.
The gold-helmeted Bombers toppled the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-12 in Sunday’s 107th Grey Cup. It ended a Cinderella story involving a team that finished third place in the West, took the hardest road to the championship game and then slayed the CFL’s best team of 2019.
The Bombers had lost their previous five trips to the big game since 1990. Sunday, the sixth time was the charm, and they finally brought joy to their long-suffering fans.
Winnipeg native Andrew Harris was massive in seizing the Cup for his hometown, as the controversial running back had 18 carries for 134 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns – one on the ground, the other through the air. He became just the second Bombers running back in Grey Cup history to surpass 100 yards – like Charlie Shepard did in 1958.
Harris added to his stellar performance Sunday by becoming the first player to be chosen the game’s top player and its top Canadian. He is the first Canadian to win the Grey Cup MVP since since the legendary Russ Jackson of the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1969.
The Canadian back hoisted the Cup after the end of a controversial season. He had tested positive for metandienone during the season, an anabolic steroid banned by the CFL. Harris denied knowingly ingesting the substance. In late August, he was suspended for two games. He got the cold shoulder from the CFL Players Association when they did not select him as an all-star, despite being the league’s leading rusher. Media did not select him for a year-end award.
“For everyone who wrote an article, or wrote something on Twitter – I just wanted to come out here and play my best game and I was able to do that today, and I’m proud of my teammates and friends and family for supporting me,” said Harris. “I’m just happy to come out on top, and to everyone who kicked me while I was down, you know where to stick it.”
Quarterback Zach Collaros made 17 of his 23 passes for 170 yards, beating his former team during a season in which he appeared on three CFL rosters. His coach Mike O’Shea called him a “fantastic story” after the game – a player who had only been on Winnipeg’s roster since early October, when the team acquired him in a trade with Toronto.
“I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun playing the game, practising and going to meetings, it’s been an amazing time,” said Collaros with a huge smile. “It’s been a wild year.”
Kicker Justin Medlock tied a Grey Cup record by kicking six field goals for the Bombers in the game.
Winnipeg’s defence created seven turnovers.
“I re-signed here because I knew how close we were to bringing this thing home,” said linebacker Adam Bighill, who had four tackles. “We’re bringing it back to Winnipeg.”
The Bombers become the first team since the 2005 Edmonton Eskimos to finish the regular season in third place, and win two playoff games on the road before going on to win the Cup.
The CFL’s two longest active Grey Cup droughts were going head to head – the Ticats hoping to hoist it for the first time since 1999.
It was total heartbreak for the Ticats, who lost their third successive Grey Cup appearance dating back to 2015. It was a night full of frustrations for the team who had a club best and CFL leading 15-3 season. They also lost their best player early in the second half, Brandon Banks.
Banks, the league’s leading receiver and 2019 most outstanding player, would not get the vindication he so badly wanted, after he ran returned a punt for a touchdown in the 2014 Grey Cup against the Calgary Stampeders but had it overturned by a penalty flag.
Dane Evans completed 16 of his 27 passes for 203 yards, and a touchdown, against two interceptions.
But for the Ticats, it was a night of turnovers, missed catches, passes batted down and a parade of pass-rushers getting to Evans.
During a brisk night with temperatures hovering around the 3 C mark, a crowd of 35,439 watched at McMahon Stadium on Sunday but it was not a sellout.
The Bombers’ defence had not given up a touchdown since the second quarter of the Western semi-finals, and as a group, and they were disruptive right off the top Sunday.
They orchestrated a turnover on Hamilton’s very first possession as Brandon Alexander grabbed an Evans pass that tipped off the hands of Ticats receiver Jaelon Acklin.
Winnipeg’s defence came hard on the next series, too – sacking Evans on consecutive plays. The second was by CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive player Willie Jefferson, which forced a fumble, that was recovered by Bighill.
The Bombers swiftly turned that into a touchdown, as Harris rumbled the final 15 yards into the endzone to provide a startling 7-0 lead.
The Ticats trimmed that lead quickly with a field goal, and the Bombers then missed one and conceded a single point.
The Ticats went for it on third down but David Watford’s quarterback sneak fell just short and the Tabbies turned the ball over on downs.
Hamilton kicked another to make it 8-6. The Bombers answered back with another to pull ahead 11-6.
The Bombers mixed in backup quarterback Chris Streveler for part of the second quarter. He tossed an 18 yard touchdown pass to Harris. The flashy Canadian running back celebrated by spinning the football off the turf as his Bombers took an 18-6 lead and looked totally in control.
Before the half was through, Medlock booted a second field goal for a 21-6 lead
The half-time show was headlined by Keith Urban. The Nashville-based, New Zealand-born and Australian-raised country superstar was an enormous get for the CFL. The shaggy-haired four-time Grammy Award winner has an affinity for the country-loving city of Calgary, having played the Alberta city several times dating back to the late 1990s.
Yet, it was his first CFL game. His 13-minute set included a medley of five hit songs, along with some flashy pyrotechnics as cheer teams from across the CFL crowded around his stage.
Medlock added a third field goal to open the second half, and the news wasn’t getting any better for the Ticats. Hamilton’s explosive receiver Banks limped off to the locker room – done for the night after six catches for 72 yards.
A Hamilton special teams trick play finally gave the Ticats some life. Kicker Lirim Hajrullahu faked a field goal, then launched a pass to Luke Tasker, which resulted in a 12-yard gain. The Ticats followed that up with a four-yard touchdown pass from Evans to Bralon Addison, dampened only by the fact that their two-point conversion failed.
The Tabbies had inched to within 12 but the Bombers never allowed them any closer. The Bomber party could not be derailed.
O’Shea defeated his dear friend and old teammate on two Grey Cup championship teams in Ticats head coach Orlondo Steinauer.
O’Shea’s team had to win two playoff games on the road – over the Stampeders in Calgary, then the Roughriders in Regina, in order to get to the Grey Cup. The coach thought that bolstered his team.
“Being 11-7 and having to go on the road, I thought that was perfect, because everything we had learned to that point was going to serve us,” said O’Shea. “Our guys are phenomenal learners.”