Banjo Bowl draws thousands of excited fans, happy to enjoy tradition again
Tailgate parties were in full force before sold-out game at IG Field on Saturday
Tens of thousands of football fans packed the stands at Winnipeg's IG Field on Saturday to watch the Blue Bombers take on the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 17th Banjo Bowl, which many are enjoying more than ever this year.
The annual matchup is beloved by Canadian Football League fans in both provinces, and usually draws many Saskatchewan fans across the border into Manitoba to show their support for their team.
This year's event feels extra special for many fans, who had to miss out on an entire CFL season last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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"We got all shut down [last season] and it's especially nice to get out now and be able to get together with people that you haven't been able to see in a long time," said Glenn Komishon, who sported a white cowboy hat, fake gold chain and fur coat — a look inspired by former Blue Bombers quarterback Chris Streveler, who helped the team win the Grey Cup in 2019.
Saturday's Banjo Bowl game was sold out. A Blue Bombers spokesperson said 33,234 fans were in attendance.
Fans also enjoyed a longtime tradition at Bombers games — for the first time this season, they were welcomed to a pre-game tailgate party just outside IG Field.
Other fans set up barbecues and lawn chairs in the parking lots and met up with old friends.
Komishon arrived at around 10:30 a.m. Saturday to set up his tailgate party with family.
"Getting together with the Bombers is a great thing," he said. "We use it as a family event. We're going to have over 25 people here; in past years, we've had up to 60."
WATCH | Blue Bombers, Roughriders fans celebrate Banjo Bowl:
'Nothing else like it'
The longtime fan says the Banjo Bowl is special for fans because of the Bombers' longtime rivalry with the Roughriders.
"It's so special because we like to pick on our neighbours from Saskatchewan and have a rivalry going with them, but I think it's just a great excuse to get together with the CFL and your family and friends and support the team that we have," he said.
Another lifelong fan, Adria Mielke — whose grandfather, Hal Ledyard, played for the Bombers in the 1960s — said hating the Riders is in her blood.
"If you're a Bomber fan, you don't like the Riders," she said.
Mielke said the energy inside the stadium in Winnipeg is what makes the Banjo Bowl so memorable.
"It's insane. When you get inside it's seriously ridiculous, there's nothing else like it," she said.
Her friend Emily Leonard agrees.
"It's straight electricity — you just feel it through your skin and you're excited to be there," said Leonard.
Mielke said that energy was missed last year, when the CFL was on hold.
"It's so awesome to be here, we've been at every home game since [the first game back], and it's just awesome to be there and to watch it live and to be able to just have football back."
'Everyone's spirits are super-high'
Michelle De Groot is also a lifelong Bombers fan. Saturday was her first time tailgating with friends outside the stadium.
"It's unbelievable. There's so many people here, everyone's spirits are super-high," said De Groot.
Saskatoon resident Ward Mudrey was tailgating with friends outside the stadium for what may be their 15th year celebrating the Banjo Bowl. The group goes back so far they can't remember exactly how long it's been.
"It's awesome, the hospitality is great," said Mudrey.
"This is my first trip outside the province [since the start of the pandemic] and it's really fun to come and meet old friends, do the things we used to do, kind of get back to that normalcy."
Mudrey said he's glad the CFL is back up and running, and he doesn't mind that fans need to be double-vaccinated to enter IG Field.
"It's one of the reasons I went and made sure I'm double-vaxxed," said Mudrey. "If that's the only way to attend games, it's what you gotta do."
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