Manitoba

Winnipeg NFL fans disappointed as stars sit in pre-season game, IG Field comes up short — literally

Much like the field, the National Football League's foray into Winnipeg fell short of expectations Thursday night.

Despite problems, some find positives in Packers-Raiders NFL pre-season tilt

Raiders fan Paul and Packers fan Bill, both from Winnipeg, are dressed up wearing the colours of their beloved teams. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Much like the field, the National Football League's foray into Winnipeg fell short of expectations Thursday night.

The pre-season contest between the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers came down to the wire, with a last-minute field goal giving the Raiders a 22-21 victory. But for many fans, the story of the game was what they didn't see on the turf at IG Field.

For starters, the game had to be played on a field that was shortened by 20 yards due to safety concerns about the spots where the CFL goalposts had been removed. Virtually none of the top players on either team played a single down.

"I think it's unfortunate this is how the NFL did come to Winnipeg," said Janice Labossiere, a Green Bay Packers fan who lives in the city. "I think it could have been done really well … the goalposts and the starters [issues] — that is really tough."

Concerns about slow ticket sales in the weeks leading up to the game were confirmed by game time. Attempts by the promoter to attract more fans by slashing prices didn't prove to be enough to fill the thousands of empty seats that greeted the players when they hit the field.

Typically as the NFL pre-season progresses, teams begin to put their season-opening lineup on the field more frequently to allow them to get some more playing time, but that was not the case on Thursday night.

Big-name draws like Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Oakland counterpart Derek Carr were missing, while Raiders star wide receiver Antonio Brown missed game action yet again due to a helmet issue. 

Janice Labossiere and her boyfriend, both Green Bay Packers fans, were surprised none of the biggest names took to the field for pre-season action in Winnipeg. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Labossiere, who has flown to Green Bay to watch her beloved Packers play, was disappointed she couldn't even get a glimpse of her team's star quarterback.

"It would have been really nice to see Aaron Rodgers play at least a quarter. It's Week 3. Normally in Week 3 we're used to seeing some starters, but I think there are a lot of disappointed people."

Denver Broncos fans Jason Guralnick and wife Kerri were also surprised the stars didn't play.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers waves to the crowd from the sidelines. Rodgers did not play in the game. (CBC)

"You feel a little bit burnt that you expected to see Rodgers or Carr at least get a series," said Jason.

"For them not to trot out and hand the ball off three times, that is a little disappointing."

'Opportunity missed'

A big factor in the players not suiting up can be chalked up to safety concerns about the goalposts, and the holes in the end zones where the CFL posts previously stood. Attempts to cover the holes were deemed unsatisfactory.

Guralnick said the issues should have been resolved well prior to game day.

Jason and Kerri Guralnick enjoyed the NFL pre-season experience in Winnipeg, but were disappointed that marquee players did not suit up. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

"I understand the field conditions or the goal posts was an issue. It's unfortunate, but they had enough time, they should have come up with a solution," he said. "The 80-yard-field is kinda silly. It makes it a little sad."

Guralnick said the fans showed their spirit, but logistically it turned into a bit of a letdown.

Wally MacDonald painted his face silver and black, and wore a mask to show his love for the Raiders. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

"The city looks good, but maybe the stadium or football facility, they will take a hit because of what happened out there, they should have been prepared and had a solution for it."

Exposure for Winnipeg

While the stands might not have been full, Kerri Guralnick said she felt Winnipeggers were able to prove they live in a football city.

"They must view us quite highly, if we're able to draw a couple NFL teams here.… Given the fact it's the pre-season and the teams are not going to probably fill their own stands, I think we did a pretty good job."

Ben MacInnes a die-hard Packers fan, was excited to see an NFL game in his hometown of Winnipeg. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

Although the game might not have been spectacle many fans expected, Winnipeggers John Marsh and Jeff Krause agreed the city shone while in the spotlight.

"I think it's a great use of the stadium, I think it's great exposure, and I think overall because we're going to be on national TV, it's good for Winnipeg," said Krause.

Jeff Krause and John Marsh both feel the NFL game in Winnipeg allowed for the city to showcase what is has to offer on a national stage in the U.S. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

"This city has a lot to offer, and it's great that the rest of the world gets to see this."

Both men felt while there were some misses and the overall experience could have been improved, it's important to remember the positives.

"It's a beautiful night, we've got a great crowd out here, people are screaming and yelling and having a good time. Is this not what Winnipeg is?"

A group of Packers fans from Winnipeg were excited for the NFL's debut in Winnipeg. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

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