Drought over, pants on: Bombers deliver a Grey Cup win for the ages

The longest Grey Cup drought in the Canadian Football League is over and a longtime Winnipeg Blue Bombers fan can finally put pants on again.

In front of a crowd of 35,439 fans at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, the Bombers defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-12 to capture their 11th Grey Cup in team history but first title since 1990.

Winnipeg native Andrew Harris became the first player in CFL history to win both the Grey Cup's Most Outstanding Player as well as the Most Outstanding Canadian awards. 

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"I'm so proud to be a Winnipegger and I can't wait to get back and share this with all them," Harris said. "I just wanted to prove it to my teammates and deliver for them. Everything else, whatever. I just wanted to be the best player I could be today."

WATCH | Andrew Harris has historic Grey Cup night:

Harris finished the championship game rushing for 134 yards and had six catches for 35 yards through the air. He's also the first Canadian to be named Grey Cup MVP since the legendary quarterback Russ Jackson of the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1969.

"It's surreal. It's amazing. It's a dream come true. When you hard work is rewarded it's an amazing feat," Harris said.

It's been a turbulent season for Harris. In August, Harris was suspended for two games after testing positive for Metandienone, which is a banned substance under the drug policy of the CFL. He still managed to have a stand-out season, racking up 1,380 rushing yards. However, he didn't win a league award and wasn't named to the all-star team.

"The only trophy I'm worried about is that shiny silver one," Harris said. "We've been counted out all year. I've been counted out and disrespected all year. This is just a dream come true."

Soaking up the moment

Harris and his teammates celebrated on the McMahon turf, hoisting the Grey Cup with family and friends nearby as blue and gold confetti swirled in the Calgary sky.

Off to the side, CFL Defensive Player of the Year Willie Jefferson held is daughter in his arms, soaking in the moment.

"This is my beautiful daughter Kelley Brielle Jefferson," he said. "I just had to come out here and give it my all. I had my dad, my mom, my wife and my daughter. I couldn't come out here and play a mediocre game in front of my family."

Jefferson finished the game with three quarterback sacks and two forced fumbles to help guide the Bombers to victory.

Nathan Denette/Canadian Press
Nathan Denette/Canadian Press

"I'm speechless. I don't know what to do. I just want to hold my baby and be with my family. I can't wait for the champagne to cover my eyes," Jefferson said.

Inside the locker room Bombers players sprayed champagne and smoked cigars, dancing around to music. A number of players tried to sneak-attack a Gatorade shower on their head coach Mike O'Shea, who was prepared for it. He grabbed the jug and dumped on his players before getting soaked by the second wave.

O'Shea, in his sixth season as head coach, praised his team in the locker room after the win.

Nathan Denette/Canadian Press
Nathan Denette/Canadian Press

"That was an impressive win. To play your best when it mattered most is fantastic. You should be all proud of yourself," he said.

Putting pants on again

The Grey Cup victory ends a woeful 29-year drought for Winnipeg and it also allowed superfan Chris Matthew the opportunity to finally put pants on again. Eighteen years ago, in November 2001, Matthew made a bet with friends that he wouldn't wear shorts again until the Bombers won the Grey Cup. He didn't expect it to last for nearly two decades.

Shaw Communications reached out to Matthew on Saturday afternoon, asking him if he had any interest in attending the championship game in Calgary. That's when the Canadian telecommunications company gifted him the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to see his team take home the Grey Cup for the first time since 1990.

When zeroes hit the clock, Matthew made his way from his seat onto the McMahon Stadium turf to put on a pair of camouflage track pants.

"The game, fabulous. The outcome, fabulous. Wearing pants again, I'm not sure yet. It's all new to me," he said.

Matthew had originally planned on going over to a friend's house, like he has for so many years, to watch the Grey Cup. But when he got the call he just had to attend the game and be in the stands to watch his beloved Bombers hoist the Cup.

"This is phenomenal. I was ready to go to my friend's place like I do every Grey Cup and have a few wobbly pops and watch the game. And here I am. It's indescribable," he said.

Standing by Matthew's side on the turf was his wife, Darla Robinson. She stayed clear of picking out the pants he'd be wearing.

"I actually know fashion," Robinson said. "Those are horrible. He does have nice slacks that he would wear to a funeral. But these are comfortable."

Robinson says she doesn't think the pants will last for long.

"He's always said he'll wear pants for a day, but he likes wearing his shorts."

It's something she doesn't mind putting up with.

"He's such a wonderful man that you pick your battles and that wasn't one of them," she said.

And Matthew says it was never about putting pants on again but about  the fact that the Bombers finally won.

"That's the important thing. My pants, that's secondary. In fact, I'll probably live in shorts again after this. I'll probably take these off. But the Bombers earned it today. The fans in Winnipeg deserve it," he said.

Bombers deliver knockout punch

The Bombers won every playoff game on the road, having to leave Winnipeg because of their third-place finish in the West. They knocked off the defending Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders on their home turf in the West Division semifinal

Then they went into the hostile environment of Saskatchewan and made three crucial defensive stops late in the West Final to secure a Grey Cup berth.

And when the biggest game of the year finally arrived, the Bombers were their best. But getting to this point hasn't been easy. After starting the season 9-3, the Bombers lost four of their last six games. But when the post-season arrived, the coaching staff implemented a playoff motto.

"Punch first, keep swing'n, stay in the fight," was plastered all around their locker room, in their meeting rooms and on scouting notes.

Frank Gunn/Canadian Press
Frank Gunn/Canadian Press

It was defensive assistant coach James Stanley who came up with it.

"We just needed something. We needed a spark going into the playoffs. And it worked against Calgary, so we just kept going with it," he said.

The day before every playoff game Stanley and defensive coordinator Richie Hall would show the players one round from legendary fights over the years.

Against the Stampeders they showed Ron Lyle and George Foreman fighting in 1976. Against the Roughriders the two played showed the team a round between Marvin Hegler and Thomas Hearns – a 1985 battle considered one of the greatest fights ever.

Devin Heroux/CBC Sports
Devin Heroux/CBC Sports

And finally, before the Grey Cup game Stanley and Hall showed the 1978 battle between Larry Holmes and Ken Norton.

"We showed the final round of that championship fight and Larry Holmes won it in a split decision 143-142," Hall said. "Whatever it takes. Just keep swinging and you never know what will happen."

Hall and Stanley both say all the Bombers players bought into the idea that the playoff games were going to be the fight of their lives and they were going to take some punches.

But Hall says their resilience shone when it mattered most and they had an answer every time.

"They bought into it. They said let's not let it come down to a decision. Let's go out there and take it to them. They said if we have a chance to knock them out, let's knock them out."

The Bombers got their knockout punch on Sunday night – now they're Grey Cup champions.

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