'Like a crusade now': Bombers mascot vows to be with team until it breaks Grey Cup curse

When the Winnipeg Blue Bombers lost the CFL's Western Division final on Sunday, it left a big bird out on a long limb.

'In my very first year, 1988, we had a win and I thought, this is so easy, winning Grey Cups'

Boomer, left, and Buzz made their debut in 1984 and have been fan favourites ever since. (bluebombers.com)

When the Winnipeg Blue Bombers lost the CFL's Western Division final on Sunday it left a big bird out on a long limb.

James Deighton, who will mark his 30th year as the tall, lanky bird mascot known as Boomer — one half of the Buzz and Boomer duo — made a commitment a few years ago that he might live to regret.

He said he wouldn't retire until the Bombers won the Grey Cup again. When the team fell short on Sunday of getting to the big game, it extended the Blue and Gold's championship drought to 28 years.

"It's like a crusade now, you could say. At this point, I don't want to be the guy that leaves without the job being done," said Deighton, 55, who spends his days as a finance agent with Air Canada.

"In my very first year, 1988, we had a win and I thought, 'This is so easy, winning Grey Cups,' and then in 1990, we win again. I thought, 'OK, every couple of years we'll win.'"

Or not.

The Bombers have reached the championship five times since that last one in 1990 — 1992, 1993, 2001, 2007 and 2011 — but haven't come out on top.

James Deighton promised he wouldn't retire until the Blue Bombers win the Grey Cup again. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

Despite all of that time since the team and its players were last paraded through downtown as heroes, the fans have stood by, Deighton said, tipping his hat to them.

"Our fans are fantastic. I have a lot of respect for them and I'd like to be celebrating with them."

Early into the West final against the Calgary Stampeders, Deighton started making plans to do a lot of high fives.

"I thought 'This is it, this is the year,' and then things started to slide," he said. "Calgary seemed to get their footing and sure enough, the end result was disappointing."

Injury replacement

Deighton, who proudly sports a Grey Cup ring engraved from that last championship in 1990 — given to him as a gift from the team — got his start in the costume as an emergency call-up.

His friend was the team's marketing director at the time and invited Deighton to come watch a game from the sideline.

The person performing as Buzz went down with an injury and Deighton slipped into the gear and was "terrible," he said.

People who didn't know he was in the costume talked about how bad Buzz's rhythm and timing was that day. Still, he kept the gig, shifting over to Boomer when Buzz was healed.

James Deighton, holding Boomer's head, poses with CBC Information Radio host Marcy Markusa, holding the head of Buzz, in the Winnipeg studio. (Pat Kaniuga/CBC)

"I put the work into understanding the audience, our fans, what makes them tick; also, the flow of the game as well as putting together skits," Deighton said. 

"By doing so, I was able to learn the craft of mascotting."

Since his start, he has seen about a dozen people come and go as the Buzz character, as the demands and physical exhaustion of the job take a toll.

"When you're dealing with a very humid day, it's actually dangerous.You've got to be in condition," said Deighton, who goes to the gym every day.

When you're dealing with a very humid day, it's actually dangerous.You've got to be in condition.- James Deighton

Now he trains others to perform and the duties have been spread out over several people, with a team of nine others sharing the role.

Deighton no longer does the game-day antics but is the coordinator of it all. His team splits those performances while Deighton does a good chunk of the 180-ish annual public and community appearances.

That includes some this coming weekend.

Although he won't be behind a bench with players in Blue and Gold, Deighton (and Boomer) will be at the Grey Cup in Edmonton.

He'll perform in costume at Touchdown Manitoba, a Manitoba-style social event with bands, player autographs, a silent auction and Old Dutch potato chips.

He'll also be at Bomber House, the team's official fan base during the Grey Cup Festival.

"And I'll be attending the game, as myself."

About the Author

Darren Bernhardt

Reporter/Editor

Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, first at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories and features. Story idea? Email: darren.bernhardt@cbc.ca