Veteran Winnipeg running back Andrew Harris more appreciative of Grey Cup experiences

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HAMILTON — Time has given Andrew Harris a deeper appreciation about what it takes to win the Grey Cup.

The veteran running back will look to win a third Grey Cup in his 11-year CFL career Sunday when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers face the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Tim Hortons Field. Harris captured his first championship in 2011 with the B.C. Lions then had to wait eight years before securing a second with the Bombers in 2019.

"I didn't really appreciate it (in 2011)," Harris told reporters Wednesday. "It was a really big, big game and it was amazing but it felt kind of easy at the time.

"I didn't realize how tough it is. It's very tough to get to this game and very tough to win it. There's a much greater appreciation for it now than I had in 2011."

The five-foot-10, 216-pound Harris was a one-man show in 2019 when the Bombers upset Hamilton 33-12. The 34-year-old Winnipeg native was named the game MVP and top Canadian after rushing for 134 yards and a TD on 18 carries while adding five catches for 35 yards and a touchdown.

It was regarded as an upset win as Hamilton had posted a CFL-best 15-3 record while Winnipeg (11-7) finished third in the West. The tables have turned in 2021 as the Bombers registered a league-leading 11-3 mark while the Ticats (8-6) were third in the East standings.

However, Hamilton will have home-field advantage Sunday, something Harris enjoyed in 2011 when the Lions beat Winnipeg 34-23 at B.C. Place Stadium. The Ticats have the benefit of practising at their facility, sleeping in their own beds and having the overwhelming support of the game-day crowd Sunday.

"A lot of people look at those as big advantages," Harris said. "But I think at the end of the day, professionally you prepare the right way.

"Once you get on that field, the crowd shouldn't really be a factor because you're locked in and focused. You just have to tune out and get the job done."

Harris, who was also the top Canadian in the 2011 Grey Cup game, certainly did that Sunday. He ran for 136 yards and a TD in Winnipeg's 21-17 win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the West Division. It was Harris's first game since Oct. 15 due to a knee injury.

And Winnipeg secure the victory despite committing six turnovers, which showed Harris something about his team.

"I realized that we had a thick skin, (we're) resilient," he said. "We really had not faced any adversity like that this year especially from a turnover standpoint."

Celebrating another championship would be a terrific ending to a season that saw Harris's streak of consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns end at three. He ran for 623 yards on 116 carries (5.4-yard average) and three TDs in seven regular-season games.

"He's just a gamer, he's a baller, a football player," said Bombers receiver Nic Demski, also a Winnipeg native. "He understands the game mentally and also is built for the game physically as well.

"He came in and did his thing. We're going to be dependent upon him this game as well."

And Harris is more than happy to be ending his season playing for another championship.

"It's the Grey Cup, it's the biggest game of the year, it never gets old," he said. "I'm excited to get out there with my teammates, I'm excited to represent my city, the team I play for, the province I'm from … that's exciting for me.

"It's another game, it's another opportunity. It could be a third ring and that's exciting for me."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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