Blue Bombers, fans party through downtown Winnipeg with Grey Cup
About 10,000 fans line streets, gather at The Forks to celebrate long-awaited CFL championship team
The hopes of a city that waited nearly three decades to hoist the Grey Cup was encapsulated Tuesday in a fur coat-wearing quarterback chugging beers, a shirtless wide receiver blaring an air horn and a hometown hero throwing snowballs.
Winnipeg ate it all up Tuesday afternoon, as a rambunctious bunch of Blue Bombers were feted in a parade worthy of a city that endured the longest championship drought of any CFL team — until Sunday.
Many players struggled to describe what it meant to hoist a chalice last lifted in Winnipeg in 1990.
"It's kinda hard to put this into words, what this means to us," linebacker Adam Bighill told the rally, his voice hoarse.
"Maybe because, like you guys, you ain't got no voice left!" he yelled.
Bighill's enthusiasm personified three decades of bottled-up bliss, uncorked when Winnipeg won the CFL final 33-12 over the favoured Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Calgary.
The players basked in the love of 10,000 fans, with rows of cheering Bomber supporters following the parade through the iconic Portage and Main intersection and toward The Forks, where a rally was held.
There was hometown favourite Andrew Harris revelling in the crowd's adoration, while tossing snowballs at his teammates in the vehicle up ahead.
There was a shirtless Lucky Whitehead — bedecked in goggles, a gold necklace and his signature red dreadlocks — hanging from the front door of a semi-truck, yanking on the air horn.
It is moments like head coach Mike O'Shea waving to the crowd while a cigar hangs from his mouth, or defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall nodding his approval as some fans cheer "defence!" specifically for him
Missed the parade? Watch the highlights:
It is an energetic Chris Streveler, draped in a fur coat, shotgunning beers. "Need beer," he and his teammates would shout, and every so often Winnipeggers tossed a beer in his direction.
It was for the fans who cheered and chanted, their arms outstretched so their phones could capture a party three decades in the making.
Some of them waited a long time for this celebration.
"I can't describe it, man — relieved, elated," Ken Burns, a longtime season-ticket holder, said.
"I was wishing and praying for this day forever and it's finally here," said Laureen Fuerst, one of three generations in her family born in a year when Winnipeg won the Grey Cup.
Thousands of fans like them flocked to The Forks, the final destination of the downtown victory bash.
At the rally, Harris was carefully tossing the Grey Cup in the air and catching it. The chalice that broke in half the day before had been repaired.
"Winnipeg, you got my back!" Harris yelled, one of three Blue Bombers who graduated from Winnipeg's Oak Park High School.
"We've got your back!" the fans shouted right back.
Harris signed with his hometown team in 2016 as a free agent.
"2016, all I had was one goal in mind was this thing right here, baby," Harris said, lifting the Grey Cup from its neck. "We got it, man, and it's not leaving for awhile."
Head coach O'Shea was wearing a "very small" 1990 commemorative Grey Cup shirt, he told the rally, before insisting he wanted some new Grey Cup merchandise.
"It's your cup, Winnipeg. It's your cup!" he chanted, before fans responded with a chorus of "O'Shea! O'Shea! O'Shea!"
The crowd roared again for Matt Nichols, who was injured mid-season and helped other pivots lead his team to glory.
Watch the Grey Cup parade from a time-lapsed aerial view:
He called Streveler, his backup, his "brother for life" and ordered a second deafening cheer for Zach Collaros, a late acquisition who took over when Streveler broke his foot.
"I don't know if you realize how difficult that is," Nichols said of the speed in which Collaros learned the Bombers playbook.
"I frickin love this city," Nichols said.
The players had a lot of praise for Winnipeg.
"I'm lit right now, you're lit right now," Streveler shouted. "This is amazing."
Defensive lineman Willie Jefferson thanked the city for taking him and his family in.
"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the CFL than right here in Winnipeg," he said. "I love y'all for the rest of my life."
Earlier in the celebration, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman announced an honorary renaming for Chancellor Matheson Road between University Crescent and Pembina Highway, which will be known as "Grey Cup Champions Way." The road leads to the Bombers' home stadium.
The Bombers left the last word from the celebration to wide receiver Nic Demski, another Winnipegger.
"I'm going to keep this short and sweet — all I've got to say is: the drought is over," he says, punctuating his claim with the drop of his microphone.
You can watch the whole thing here:
The party continues Friday night with a Bombers-hosted social at the RBC Convention Centre at 7:30 p.m.
A free family event will be held at the convention centre on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
With files from Darren Bernhardt, Dana Hatherly