Talks of a Winnipeg Blue Bombers dynasty have been shelved, replaced by a sense of disappointment shared by players and fans alike.
The Bombers dropped a 24-23 decision to the Toronto Argonauts in Sunday’s 109th Grey Cup in Regina, missing out on a chance to become only the fifth team to ever win three or more consecutive CFL championships.
The last team to accomplish the rare feat was Edmonton, which laid claim to the Grey Cup five straight times, from 1978 to 1982.
As the Bombers solemnly walked back to their locker room after the final whistle, the sting from the upset loss was evident.
Winnipeg had amassed a 15-3 regular-season record and knocked off the B.C. Lions 28-20 in the West Division Final at IG Field one week prior. The Bombers were the undisputed favourites, but it was the underdogs who delivered the crushing blow — Robbie Smith blocking a Marc Liegghio field goal in the final minute to secure the victory.
“We just wanted to bring another Grey Cup back to the city,” running back Brady Oliveira said.
Although the agony of defeat was still fresh in the former Oak Park Raider’s mind, he was quick to praise his hometown and reaffirm his commitment to the Bombers.
“Everyone knows how proud I am to be from Winnipeg and play for this team,” Oliveira said. “I promise I’ll bring another Grey Cup back to Winnipeg during my time being a Bomber. I’ve got years left with this organization.”
Oliveira is one of three Winnipeggers who play for the CFL club. Receiver Nic Demski and offensive lineman Geoff Gray are the others.
Demski was trying to come to terms with the loss in the immediate aftermath.
“The reason you play football is to go out there and win championships. When you fall short of that goal, it’s never the best feeling,” he said.
Demski, who finished with 28 yards on five offensive touches, said there were several positives positives to how Winnipeg played the game, but that he still had to “dig a little bit deeper and search a little bit more,” he said.
“That’s how you turn a negative into a positive.”
Winnipeg held the Argos without a touchdown in the first half, taking a 10-7 lead into halftime.
A 14-yard reception by Winnipeg product and former Bomber Andrew Harris early in the third quarter led to the first of two second-half touchdowns for A.J. Ouellette, giving the Boatmen a 14-10 advantage.
Winnipeg scored the next two majors — short-yardage quarterback Dakota Prukop scored his second one-yard touchdown run before Janorian Grant electrified the crowd with a Grey Cup-record 102-yard punt return for a touchdown — to take a 23-14 lead early in the fourth quarter after Liegghio missed a convert.
But Toronto didn’t back down, with Ouellette reaching pay dirt once more before Argos kicker Boris Bede drilled his third field goal to put his team up for good.
Winnipeg dropped to 0-7 all-time in Grey Cup matchups against Toronto, while the Argos have won a record 18th championship.
Fans of the Blue and Gold who were inside Mosaic Stadium were also disappointed by the result.
But Shaun Cockram knew the Argos were better team.
“They were the best team tonight,” Shaun Cockram said after the game.
He was upset but acknowledged the Bombers have had a tremendous run over the past few seasons.
“We went back to back already, so I can’t be too upset,” he said. “There’s always next year.”
The Bombers will take aim at a third Grey Cup in four seasons, with their sights set on returning to Hamilton, Ont., for the 110th Grey Cup.
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