November 13, 2023

O’Leary: Businesslike Bombers reacquaint with Hamilton

Kevin Sousa/

Our first look at the two combatants in the 110th Grey Cup turned out to be a lesson in contrasts.

First the Montreal Alouettes landed at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, setting the team’s first appearance in the championship game in 13 years in motion.

There was a giddiness to the group, as what appeared to be the entire roster made its way into the museum, checking out the hulking aircrafts that filled the cavernous space. At the podium for his media availability, Als head coach Jason Maas spoke fondly of the Lancaster Mk. X that loomed near him, a direct link to the naming of the Alouettes franchise. It felt like a genuine moment for an Als team whose journey of late feels like it’s greased with the right things happening to them at the right time.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers followed, bringing a different but familiar energy.

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A smaller group of players and staff made their way into the museum. The background noise that the Als had created with their presence had vanished, save for a random loud music outburst in the distance during Brandon Alexander‘s media time.

These things can be expected, though, when you’re making your fourth consecutive Grey Cup appearance. The Warplane Museum likely still resonates in the minds of many of the Bombers, who first encountered it when they arrived in Hamilton in 2021 for their 108th Grey Cup appearance.

The Bombers have tacked another year on to their dynasty-in-progress. Through these four Grey Cup appearances they’ve gone 51-17 in the regular season and have won two out of three possible championships (they’re well aware of last year’s loss to the Toronto Argonauts). At a point, Grey Cup week becomes familiar. The process of the week — the team arrival, the coaches’ conference, the media day, the CFL Awards and all of the time commitments and obligations in between before kickoff on Sunday — is void of surprise, at least in its layout and its requirements.

That doesn’t mean it’s taken for granted; it’s just engrained in the journey of the Bombers’ season. That’s not a bad thing.

“I think we know our way around,” Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said.

“We know how to conserve time. The extra little time to close your eyes on the bus ride, when things aren’t as well-timed as they should be. How to steal a few moments for yourself, right?

“We don’t want to treat this as routine. We want to treat this as if it’s urgent. The vets have chosen to stay in the moment. They have these other experiences that they can draw on and they absolutely use, but they can still treat it as their first one. They can use their experiences to get through it, but they can still have that burn like it’s their first one.”

The Bombers made their second trip to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in three years on Monday (The Canadian Press)

Bombers’ quarterback Zach Collaros said there was no been-there, done-that feel to things for the team, despite it being the fourth trip in a row to the game.

“It’s a special week,” he said. “It’s very important to the fabric of the country and the league.”

He remembered his first Grey Cup appearance, when he was an Argo, back in 2012 and his experience playing in the game with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2014.

“You just have a different level of appreciation as you get older, the understanding of what goes into it,” he said. “You’re 25, 26 and you think you’re just going to be here every single year, it’s just going to happen. You get older and a little wiser and you appreciate it more.”

Given the hold they’ve had over the league the last four seasons, there isn’t much reason for the Bombers to change up what they’ve been doing. Alexander spoke only of the opportunity in front of himself and his teammates this week. He didn’t look back on the overwhelming amount of success that the Bombers have had, or that the team fell short of its goal last year.

“What matters is the fact that we’re here today,” he said. “We get an opportunity to lay it on the line with our guys one more time. You know, we’ve got a great team that we’re playing against in Montreal and they’re ready to go. It’s going to be exciting and again, this is the week of preparation that we need and we go from there.”

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