- Free Agency
Bomber Fan Ted has loved the Winnipeg Blue Bombers through every one of the 28 years of his life. He’s the first to admit that this kind of dedication comes with its costs.
Historically, there have been more downs than ups. He was just a year old the last time the Bombers won the Grey Cup, so he has no memories of watching his favourite players lift the trophy above their heads, or the way the city celebrated the win.
“I haven’t seen a victory, but I’m hoping for one. We need one,” he says at halftime of Sunday’s West Division semifinal. “Everyone here, you can see. It’s ridiculous.”
Walking through Investors Group Field with Ted is like getting a piggyback from the most popular kid of your high school during class change. Every few steps, fans are happy to see him.
“TED!” Fans scream out, giving him the Norm Peterson greeting from Cheers. He works his way through a crowd of people lovingly patting him on the head, extending fist bumps and stopping him for selfies.
“I don’t put on a bear suit for anybody,” he says. “I put one on for the city of Winnipeg.
“I walked in here the other night and I got 15 pictures taken before I put my head on. It’s one of those things where they know who you are. Well, they don’t know WHO you are but it’s all good.”
Ted is one of two Bombers fans — Cory Hiebert is the other — that dress up in costume for each Bombers home game and sit in section 141. It started with a Halloween game two years ago. Hiebert wore a shaggy wolf head mask and Ted was in the bear suit. It was a hit with fans in the section and they convinced them that they should keep wearing the costumes.
As members of #BomberNation, I want to thank the @Wpg_BlueBombers for another entertaining season!!! 🐻👊🔵💣!!!
Clearly not the outcome we wanted! But I feel like we took steps in the right direction!!! Thanks to ALL the fans who show support win or lose! #ForTheW #GoBombers pic.twitter.com/CowmQNtrWW
— BomberFanTed (@BomberFanTed) November 13, 2017
“At some point after the game,” says Justin Rowan, a friend of the other two that’s not in a bear suit, “Cory ran into (Bombers o-lineman) Jermarcus Hardrick at the 7-eleven.”
He showed Hardrick the mask, the two hit it off and Hardrick told Hiebert he’d seen him in the stands. At the next game when the Bombers scored a touchdown, Hardrick led the rush straight to section 141, right to the wolf mask. A tradition — the Hardrick Hop — was born.
Now, when the Bombers score a touchdown in the north end of the stadium, the offensive linemen run through the end zone to 141 and launch themselves into the wall in front of them, looking like they’ve suctioned onto the wall. They cling to that wall and the fans go nuts. It’s a total love fest.
“I look at that as my end zone. I just want to thank the fans for everything they’ve done,” Hardrick says. “They’ve supported us throw downs and lows, to quarterback changes, to us losing games and going on streaks. They were always faithful.”
“It’s next level. You can’t describe it. It’s like Lambeau Field (and the Lambeau Leap) but in Winnipeg,” Ted says. “It’s next level, big time. You want to rush the field (when the players score). You shouldn’t, necessarily, but you want to. You want to.”
At the Banjo Bowl this year, Saskatchewan Roughriders QB Brandon Bridge tried to latch onto the wall. Section 141 sent him back with authority.
“That was faithful. They honoured us for that just like we honour them,” Hardrick says. “I’ll probably have to take them for a steak dinner for that.”
The section has plenty of other reasons to be a landmark, too. It’s a younger group, generally, where everyone seems to know each other. It may not be family friendly, exactly, but it has a family feel. People greet each other as they get to their seats, some hug as they cross paths and catch up. Rowan and his friends check on the guy who sits behind him and ask how he’s healing up after his foot surgery. There’s the odd hiccup, like there would be anywhere, but the fans that know each other, the regulars, have formed a bond in their nine-plus meetings per year. They’re all there with a closeup look at the end zone, for the same thing.
“Everyone’s a party. Everyone’s a good time,” Ted says. “It’s called a student section so it should be rowdy. It should be a good time it should be obnoxious a little, right?”
Ted, Rowan, Hiebert and Jordan Devlin, Adam Vandal and Bryce Gauther were at their seats in row three at least an hour before kickoff on Sunday. They milled about at the bottom of the stairs, mingling with everyone as they got settled in. By the time the Edmonton Eskimos gathered in the tunnel, waiting right under the group of fans, they were ready, dolling out their worst. Most of the time.
“It really throws them off if you just compliment them sometimes,” Rowan says.
Once the game kicks off, it feels like you’re down south watching a college game. Most of the section stays standing through the first quarter. No matter how long you’re around Rowan, Ted and Hiebert, it’s never not funny to look over and watch Hiebert trying to pry his wolf mouth open so he can drink his beer, or to watch him struggle with his complete lack of peripheral vision.
They rode the wave of a first half that left them hopeful. Sure, the Esks scored a touchdown on their first drive of the game, but the Bombers traded blows with them, taking a 10-10 game into halftime.
“Second half team, boys.” Hiebert says as he goes to get a beer.
As the third quarter started, the same thought quietly crept through the section.
“Mike Reilly scares me,” Rowan said, with Hiebert saying it again as Edmonton took the field. It’s not long into he third when the Bombers’ fake punt doesn’t get them the down they need.
“That’ll be talked about,” Rowan says.
The Esks quickly start to roll. “Reilly scares the s—- out of me,” Devlin says.
And with good reason. Along with a suddenly impossible-to-stop C.J. Gable, Reilly and the Esks start to pick the Bombers’ defence apart.
As Gable hurdles Taylor Loffler to help get his team up 39-16 at 3:41 of the fourth, it gets quiet and fans start to sit down.
“Lots of time left,” Hiebert says, breaking the silence. “This doesn’t look good though.”
The Bombers’ late push came up short and Edmonton hung on for a 39-32 win, bringing an end to the Bombers season and the fun that section 141 had this year.
“There’s injuries and that’s the problem,” Ted said at halftime. “This year it’s Mo Leggett. If he was in the lineup I’d call this a cakewalk.”
“It was an incredibly difficult end to what was an inspiring season,” Rowan says. “The team dealt with a lot of adversity all year but never gave up.
“It’s disappointing when I reflect on the team not getting a chance to show what it could do full strength. But overall it’s hard to be disappointed in the effort they gave. It feels like the organization is headed in the right direction.”
By Monday, Rowan was like many other Winnipeg fans. He was shifting his focus to what this winter might bring for his favourite team. He said the future looked murky.
“They have a lot of important players hitting free agency and turnover is inevitable. But the organization has earned the benefits of the doubt when it comes to their ability to find talent and put the right leadership in place.
“There will be tweaks to the roster and some of the coaching staff, but they seem to know what it stakes to build a winner.”