Saturday, June 11, 2022

Ottawa Redblacks 17 at Winnipeg Blue Bombers 19 - June 10, 2022

Back in 2015, I travelled to Winnipeg to watch the Grey Cup at Investors Group Field. Since the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were not playing in that game, it did not count as a home venue visit and as I want to see all nine CFL home teams, I had to return to Winnipeg at some point during the regular season. The other team I have yet to visit is Saskatchewan, so both had to be home on the same weekend in order for me to go. There were a couple of such occasions in 2020 and I booked a trip, but COVID put the kibosh on those plans, while the Canadian travel rules made a visit last year impossible. So it was with great anticipation that I waited for the 2022 CFL schedule to come out. Surprisingly, there is only one weekend where both teams are home, and it happened to be the first week of the season. So I booked flights and hotels, and invited my buddies Sharpy and Sean, who agreed to join me for an old-fashioned road trip. A players' strike threatened to derail our plans, but that was settled in time and we met up in Winnipeg on Friday afternoon.

The stadium is located on the campus of the University of Manitoba in the southern part of the city. As such, there is not much around the stadium in terms of bars and restaurants. We stayed nearby and walked over to IG Field (the name changed due to a corporate rebranding in 2018), passing a very lively tailgate area, where parking cost $20 (though postgame saw a lot of traffic getting out). We were greeted at Gate 1 by a sign that brags about the team's 12 titles. They are the back-to-back champs as well, after having endured a 28-year drought. Interestingly, eight of those Grey Cup wins came at the expense of Hamilton, including the famous Fog Bowl in 1962; two others came when the team was in the Eastern Conference while Ottawa had no entrant in the league.

A Hall of Fame can also be found here, consisting of several plaques that highlight all of the inductees.

The ticket office is located at Gate 3, which means a long walk around the exterior of the stadium, past a busy party area. Once there, you will find a statue of Cal Murphy, who was the GM here from 1983-96 and coached the team for eight of those seasons.

Tickets were about $60 each to sit in the upper deck, a figure I found much higher than expected. I guess two-time defending champs can demand such prices, but they didn't sell out. As you can see below (if you can read upside down), the Blue Bombers share the venue with the University of Manitoba football team. The Winnipeg Rifles of the Canadian Junior Football League and Valour FC of the Canadian Professional Soccer League also use the stadium.

The venue opened in 2013 and has a football capacity of 33,500, though this can be increased for the Grey Cup. The lower seating bowl encircles the field, while there are stands on each sideline that are covered by a wavy, cantilevered roof. It is quite an attractive facility and I had a much easier time navigating it with fewer fans than at the Grey Cup. Standing areas are along the sidelines and in the end zones as well, and they were quite popular.

There are plenty of concessions with a wide variety of food and drink options, though I did not partake as we had eaten beforehand. 

Concourses can get a little narrow at places, but crowds still flowed well. Most fans use stairs to get to the second deck; there are elevators and ramps for those who need them but no escalators.

There is only one level of suites, so the upper deck is not far away at all; the picture below is taken from our seats midway up the second deck near midfield. 

Of course, midfield in Canada is marked by the 55-yard line, and I got a close up look at it after the game, when fans were allowed to cavort on the playing surface.

One unique feature is a miniature bi-plane that toodles around the field after the Bombers score. 

It is driven by Captain Blue (below), who is a normal guy dressed up in Blue Bombers flying outfit.

There are two, more typical anthropomorphic mascots, Boomer (below) and Buzz, who can be found at various places around the field before and during the game.

A Ring of Honour is on the facing above the suites and includes 13 members. It was opened in 2016 with nine inductees, and a new member has been added each year, with the exception of 2020 of course.

Before the game, the Bombers unveiled their 2021 Grey Cup banner, which includes all of their titles in smaller print below. The fans are considered "The Loudest in the CFL", and they cheered heartily for their team's successes over the past three years.

Overall, IG Field is another enjoyable spot to watch some CFL football. The team is finally seeing a run of success but the league itself seems to be struggling to regain popularity after two tough years. Only 26,002 attended on this night (thankfully Sean, Sharpy, and I showed up to get them over the 26,000 mark). If you are a sports traveler looking for some summer football, consider the CFL and its nine teams as possible road trip destinations.

The Game

The Ottawa Redblacks were the visitors, with new QB Jeremiah Masoli (#8 below) making his team debut after spending eight seasons with Hamilton. Meanwhile, Zach Collaros started for Winnipeg. Interestingly, the two were born just three days apart in late August 1988. 

The teams traded touchdowns in the first quarter and field goals early in the second. A long punt by Ottawa was downed for a single and the 11-10 lead lasted late into the half. An obnoxious Ottawa fan nearby cheered loudly, earning some derisive looks from the locals. The RedBlacks took over on their own 19 with 2:37 left and drove the ball well, taking time off the clock. They were in field goal range with about 30 seconds to go, but needlessly ran an extra play that resulted in the half ending. I predicted that Winnipeg would win by two after Ottawa left those three points on the field.

The third quarter was pretty dull with four punts, two turnovers, and an Ottawa field goal that gave them a 14-10 lead going into the final frame. Winnipeg finally managed a sustained drive midway through, culminating in a QB sneak from backup Dakota Prukop. The convert was missed and boom, there was your two-point advantage. But Ottawa managed a field goal on their next possession and when Winnipeg was forced to punt, with 2:47 to go, Ottawa had a chance to end things. But two plays later, they had to punt, and the Blue Bombers took over on their own 33 with 1:46 remaining. On the second play of the drive, Collaros ran and was hit hard after gaining 10 yards. He looked woozy and the injury spotter said he had to leave the game. Dru Brown, the third-string QB, came in and after a penalty moved them back five yards, completed three consecutive passed for 16, 14, and 21 yards. Two running plays around an Ottawa timeout led to a 25-yard field goal attempt from Marc Liegghio and he drilled it through the uprights. Ottawa had one final play after the kickoff, but a bunch of laterals went nowhere and the game ended with Winnipeg prevailing by two, as predicted.

Not a great game with 14 total punts and just three touchdowns, but Ottawa rued their clock mismanagement before halftime.

Notes

As mentioned, fans were allowed on the field after the game, something that we were glad to do. I guess this might be a regular thing because only a few hundred fans participated. It happened the next day in Saskatchewan too, so I'm not sure if this is a regular occurrence, but it sure makes staying until the end worthwhile. 

In an scheduling oddity, the two teams met the following Friday in Ottawa, with Winnipeg winning another barnburner 19-12. I do feel for those that attended both games.

Best,

Sean


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