Blue Bombers say last season’s disappointment providing fuel for 2023 run
HAMILTON – For the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, winning never gets old.
Four seasons, four Grey Cup appearances. For some on the roster, playing in the final game of the CFL season is all they know.
“You can’t take this for granted,” running back Brady Oliveira said Wednesday at Grey Cup Media Day. “This is obviously very special. I’ve been fortunate every year since I’ve been in this league to have a Grey Cup appearance. Some guys play 10 years in the league and don’t go to one Grey Cup.”
The first appearance on Winnipeg’s current run was in 2019 – a 33-12 victory over Hamilton. Following the canceled 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Blue Bombers returned in 2021 and won a much closer game against the Tiger-Cats, getting an overtime touchdown pass from Zach Collaros to help seal a 33-25 win.
But for the first time on their current run, Winnipeg is entering the Grey Cup following a loss the previous season.
The Blue Bombers came up short against the Argos last year, when Chad Kelly led a nine-point fourth-quarter comeback and Toronto blocked Marc Liegghio’s 47-yard field goal attempt in the final minute to preserve a 24-23 win.
Disappointment from last season’s loss lingered throughout the off-season and into training camp, and has added some extra incentive as Winnipeg prepares for Sunday’s meeting with Montreal.
“I wouldn’t say the approach is different,” wide receiver Nic Demski said on Wednesday. “I think the mindset is a little different, though. This year, our mindset is ‘We’re not coming off that field without a win.’
“Don’t get me wrong, it was like that last year. But after that sour taste, it’s really instilled in our mind.”
“At the beginning of the year, everyone wanted it to be us against Toronto again,” added defensive end Willie Jefferson, who’s playing in his fourth Grey Cup with Winnipeg and fifth overall. “Now it’s something new, something exciting for me. It’s going to be fun.”
Collaros is making his sixth Grey Cup appearance. He won in Toronto as Ricky Ray’s backup in 2012, and lost as the starter in Hamilton in 2014 before his current stretch of four straight appearances with the Blue Bombers.
“It’s special every year,” Collaros said.
But does this season have some extra edge after coming up short last year?
“I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder,” Collaros said. “As a team, you try to find a different edge every off-season, and having that disappointment to fuel you definitely helped.”
Collaros led the CFL in touchdown passes (33) and finished second to B.C.’s Vernon Adams in passing yards (4,263), but for the first time since 2019, won’t be named the league’s Most Outstanding Player.
Instead, teammate Oliveira got the nod as the West Division’s nominee, after rushing for nine touchdowns and a league-high 1,534 yards.
Oliveira will find out Thursday night at the CFL Awards if he can outlast his counterpart from the East, Toronto’s Kelly. But for now, he’s focused on the Alouettes.
“We know the group we have in this locker room and how special we are,” said Oliveira. “If we play our style of football in all three phases, no one can touch us.”