Droughts in sports create a degree of pent-up frustration and passion that’s tough to quantify.
But you could sure feel it during the dying seconds of the 107th Grey Cup game. The boisterous Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans in the stands behind the team’s bench, the joyous players on the sideline.
Winston Rose jumped into the stands and Willie Jefferson stood tall and faced the fans with a championship belt in his hands.
They hadn’t sung “Let’s Go Bombers” that way since 1990 which, given all that’s taken place in the Canadian Football League since then, might as well be a century ago.
To end the CFL’s longest drought, the Blue Bombers trounced a Hamilton Tiger-Cats team that won a franchise-best 15 games this season and rolled over the Edmonton Eskimos in the Eastern Final. They were hands-down the best team in the CFL over the course of the entire season, not losing a step even when starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was lost to an injury and replaced by sophomore Dane Evans.
But when the lights turned on Sunday in Calgary, the Ticats were no match for the Bombers, who ran the ball better, threw the ball better, were better on better on special teams, and won the turnover battle during the first 30 minutes of play, racing out to a 21-6 halftime lead.
The Ticats pushed back with a touchdown in the third quarter, but the league’s highest scoring team was mostly toothless in this game, overly dependent on CFL Most Outstanding Player Brandon “Speedy” Banks during the first half and playing most of the second without him when he was lost for the game with an injury.
The Bombers relied on running the football all season and the Grey Cup game was no exception with 196 yards on the ground in total, 134 of which came from Andrew Harris, the first Canadian to win both Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Canadian in the Grey Cup.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Harris, who added that his two trophies were for “all the haters.”
The latter reference was to the fans and members of the media, who had deemed Harris unworthy of either of those awards for the regular season, after he tested positive for a performance enhancing drug and suspended two games during the regular season.
That controversy aside, Harris has had a storybook journey in Winnipeg, returning to his home town four years ago, promising to help turn the Bombers into winners.
Winnipeg had missed the playoff in six of the previous seven seasons but with Harris they’ve enjoyed four consecutive years of double-digit wins and now a Grey Cup championship.
Against the Tiger-Cats, he ran with a determination unmatched in his career and scored two touchdowns, one through the air and one on the ground.
But in a match-up that featured so many great storylines, there was none greater than that of Zach Collaros, Winnipeg’s starting quarterback who was the starter for the Tiger-Cats the last time they lost a Grey Cup game, in 2014.
Collaros began the season in Saskatchewan, being knocked out in the very first series of the season against Hamilton, putting his football future in doubt.
Two trades later he was in Winnipeg, starting the final game of the regular season for a team that had lost both its No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks to injury.
No one really knew what he had left. And yet somehow in four starts, he led the Bombers to four wins, three of them coming in the playoffs and all away from home.
None of which should take away from the Blue Bombers’ defence, led by defensive end Willie Jefferson and linebacker Adam Bighill, who stifled the Calgary Stampeders and Saskatchewan Roughriders before holding the league’s highest-scoring team to 12 points.
Storylines aside, the Blue Bombers were simply the better team.
They created seven turnovers and surrendered none.
They sacked Dane Evans six times, and gave up just one.
They were more physical, more creative, and ultimately unstoppable.
“Portage and Main is shut down,” said Harris. “Hopefully they can keep it just down until we can get back and celebrate with them.”
In a meeting of two teams that saw themselves as teams of destiny, the Blue Bombers left no debate about which one truly is.