Future blue & golden

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:30 AM ET

They came from all over, some simply crossing the street, others the country to see the beginning of the future of football in Winnipeg.

There was Kansas-born and California-raised Buck Pierce, quarterback of the Blue Bombers, who took some time out from pulling catfish out of the Assiniboine River to toss a few spirals to local kids gathered for the event.

"It's amazing," Pierce said. "You hear about how this is going to affect community football, all the way up to the CFL level. I'm still learning about the tradition here. I'm still learning about how passionate the fans are here. It shows a lot of hope for the city of Winnipeg."

There was sun-drenched CFL commissioner Mark Cohon, in from Toronto but on the eve of a European vacation, wondering why on earth anybody would want a dome here, and suggesting this city is "revolutionizing" the league.

"The Bombers are celebrating their past," Cohon said. "Now we're celebrating the future."

There was Greg Selinger, a.k.a. Premier Pigskin, and Mayor Sammy, not exactly the biggest Bomber booster over the years, talking about how anything's possible in this province when people work together.

As photo ops go, it had all the trappings, including a carefully crafted guest list of some of the amateurs who play and coach the game in this town, and three huge excavators, brought in to take the first bite out of what's going to be midfield in The House That David Asper Built.

Whether or not the would-be Bomber owner ever actually pays for it, time will tell.

Asper didn't let that $75-million detail stop him from playing the role.

Talking to an older fan about Pierce, Asper declared, "He's the starter."

Were you listening, Paul LaPolice?

Happiest Man

The rookie head coach was there, too, contemplating how he might make the drive from his new home north of town to his new office in Fort Garry, two years from now.

And there was Manitoba's Happiest Man, U of M Bisons head coach Brian Dobie, told by Asper years ago, "I've got your back," a reference to the new stadium Asper planned to deliver to the Brown and Gold.

"We've literally gone from the sewer to the penthouse," Dobie said, nodding his head in the general direction of the Butler Building, the drab shed that has served as Bison football headquarters since, I don't know, the Second World War?

"We're going to have a players' lounge, with TVs and couches!" Dobie gushed.

And a 3,660-square foot weight room, as part of 19,000 total square feet of space dedicated to the Bisons.

"We really are Cinderella in this," Dobie concluded. "We won the lottery. It'll be the best football situation in the nation."

And to think, it all started with Asper's initial proposal to the Bombers board in January 2007.

Along the way, more hiccups than in a North End saloon, from changes in location to government demands for more private funding to the worldwide recession.

"I don't know that I can identify a single low point," Asper said. "There were so many of them."

Thursday, though, was clearly the high point.

One minute Asper was quoting Leonardo da Vinci, the next he was climbing behind the wheel of an excavator, his thumb in the air like Don Cherry, only Grapes would probably look more at home on a construction site.

For a moment, it didn't matter if Asper could pull off his high-end retail mall at Polo Park, the machine that's supposed to manufacture the money for all this.

All that mattered, even after the crowds and dignitaries had left and the excavators had refilled those holes with sod, was that football's future, from Pop Warner to the pros, has never looked brighter in this province.

As a lifelong fan, that felt kind of cool.

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca


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