Blue Bomber fans had a lot to be thankful for late Thanksgiving Monday, especially those who decided not to pack it in early. On the back end of a home-and-home with the BC Lions, the Bombers completed perhaps the greatest come-from-behind victory of the season, winning 47-35 in a double-overtime stunner that sent the remaining Bomber faithful at Canad Inns Stadium into hysterics. For the time being, the win kept the Bombers playoff hopes alive and created enough buzz to help fans remain optimistic about the remaining regular season.
Bomber QB Alex Brink was called in to replace QB Steven Jyles as starter, and the young pivot struggled in his first ever CFL start, completing only three passes in the first half. Fortunately for Brink, he got help from the dominant Bomber defense and a 44-yard highlight reel run by Fred Reid for a TD. Going into halftime, the Bombers led 11-8.
The most vocal fans in attendance made it clear that they thought Brink’s time was up. The young quarterback clearly couldn’t find consistency and if his inability to move the ball downfield continued, the game was surely going to slip away. When Brink came out to lead the offense in the third quarter, the boo-birds started chirping.
Now, I’m not usually one to boo, but my patience at the time was razor thin. So, along with the chorus of other dissatisfied fans, I booed; I chanted, “We want Jyles!” I pleaded with head coach Paul LaPolice to open his eyes and pull Brink out of the game before it was too late.
Given my last bomber article on fanaticism, and the emphasis I placed on never losing the faith, booing seems like such a hypocritical thing for me to do, but sadly that was only the beginning. As the Lions took advantage of our stagnant offense, they ran up the score, taking the lead in the third quarter with 24 unanswered points and a 32-11 lead. Once again, the pessimistic part of me came out and, in my mind, I decided that the team was just going to shit the bed again. “We might as well beat the traffic and leave midway through the third quarter,” I thought. This was way out of character and I was clearly not myself in this moment.
All the booing, negativity and “sports fan treason” that I was exhibiting are all things that I regularly criticize. Luckily, I was ultimately convinced not to leave by my wonderful and almost psychic girlfriend who told me, “You will be sorry if you leave this game early.”
The game ultimately proved my point, that it is important to remain faithful to the home team no matter how impossible the odds may seem. The incredible comeback began taking shape as Jyles finally took the field late in the third quarter. The Monday night game was almost the exact opposite of the away game in B.C. the week earlier. That was a game where there was a looming feeling that things were going to implode at any moment and that the game would slip away. In stark contrast, when LaPolice finally put Jyles into the game, the atmosphere and excitement around the stadium was palpable; the remaining fans put everything they had behind the team. This was the biggest turning point in the game and, as the tension in the stands grew, the players responded by kicking their play up to another level.
This is where the fans truly become part of the team, when they become the proverbial “13th man” on the field. When Blue Bomber kicker Justin Palardy booted the tying field goal with no time left in regulation, the stadium erupted and the game officially went into overtime. Everyone was on their feet, loud as hell when the Lions had the ball on offense in overtime. On their first possession, the Lions were called for three penalties: one time count violation and two procedure calls. These penalties came about because the Lions simply could not hear each other over the roar of the Winnipeg crowd. This lack of communication was crucial for the Bombers to win in overtime.
So, ultimately, the lesson that should be taken away from this great game is that we the fans do play an important role in determining the outcome of some games. Fan rowdiness can be very powerful when it’s carefully focused and when doesn’t get out of hand.
When it’s executed perfectly, the players on the field and the fans in the stands feed off each other’s energy and collectively we are all the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and we are all winners.