November 27, 2007

True Blue love never dies

By Gary Lawless,
Winnipeg Free Press

Bombers GM Brendan Taman isn’t the touchy-feely type — not even close. But there was a catch in his throat as he stood off to the side and watched his players surrounded by soothing fans as the club arrived at Richardson International Airport early Monday.

“I thought we’d won. The way they came out and greeted us here this morning, I’d thought we’d won and (Sunday) was just a bad dream,” Taman whispered. “This is amazing. These folks deserve better. If we’d have had Kevin (Glenn), who knows what might have happened? We gave it our best but we didn’t have all our people out there. But they had some injuries too, so I’m sure they’d have said the same thing.”

The Blue Bombers, 23-19 losers to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Sunday’s Grey Cup, rolled off their plane from Toronto just after 10 a.m. Monday, and there to meet them were 500 or so true Blue fans. Forget the heartache of Sunday night; this was a new day for these fans and they wanted their football team to know there is still support here in Winnipeg.

“I’m here to meet the Bombers and welcome them back. I was disappointed last night, but that’s OK. This is great and at least they made the Grey Cup,” said Brittany Bolton, sporting a Bombers jersey and her face made up in Blue and Gold. “I slept for a little while last night, but we laid on our back and didn’t roll over so we wouldn’t ruin our makeup. We still love them. Of course. Why do you think we’re here?”

Airport personnel set up a red carpet behind ropes and the Bombers filed through a gauntlet of fans, signing autographs, shaking hands and hugging their people.

“We had a real good season and these guys have no reason to hang their heads. It’s been an outstanding accomplishment when you consider where we came from,” Bombers head coach Doug Berry said, his voice rising to be heard over the roaring fans.

“This is fabulous. I can’t believe how many people are here to meet us. I wouldn’t even want to begin to count. I know our team needed its spirits lifted and this has just been awesome.

“When you have a playoff system, only one team is going to finish happy. No matter how good your team is, there’s only one final winner, and that happened to Regina this year.

“We ended with a loss, but it can’t negate all the good we did this year. Winning wasn’t always easy for us, and when we won, we did it with a total team effort. This team exemplifies what I want in a team.”

Bombers defensive tackle Doug Brown, who capped a brilliant season with an outstanding final game, couldn’t avoid tears in the wash of so many fans.

“This is the hardest part, right here and right now. It’s a conflict of emotions,” said the always loquacious Brown.

“We lost, and yet everybody here still loves the team and supports us. I really don’t know how to react to that. It’s almost more emotional than it was in the locker-room last night. Just seeing people supporting the team and being so happy that we’re back, despite us coming up short.”

Veteran receiver Milt Stegall, who declined comment following Sunday’s game, remained silent and would only smile and chat with fans while signing autographs.

“I’m going to let the fans do the talking today,” said Stegall, who has hinted at retirement all season.

Perhaps the greatest receiver in league history, Stegall will be a difficult player to replace.

“I’ll try and talk to him in the next couple of days and see what we can do. It’s up to him,” Taman said.