Old fashioned Rituals

KIM BABIJ, HOME TURF

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

About an hour before every game, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are on the field for their pre-game warm up.

And, a little less than an hour before every game, each member of the Bombers front seven lines up to give defensive line coach Richard Harris a big hug.

A hug? Before a knock-down, drag-out football game?

Absolutely, says the man who brought the pre-game ritual to the Bombers. He wouldn't have it any other way.

"It started back in B.C. in 2001," says Harris, who coached with the Lions from 2001-04.

"Every game, we are going to war. That is what we're doing, hand-to-hand combat. And I feel like when you're going to war, the guy who's leading his group should make sure he has personal contact with each and every one of his men. I like to make sure my guys always feel and understand they can be confident that I've always got their backs."

But even a sport where ritual and superstition play a huge part in the game day preparation for many players, it's apparently a little too much to ask for some of the macho men who receive the hugs to give straight answers about it.

"I'm not a hug it out kind of guy," says defensive end Doug Brown. "But I do it because everyone else does it. I feel bad if I leave coach hanging with only six hugs instead of seven. You know what I'm saying? I don't want to be the guy who doesn't give the hug."

Then, pointing to locker-mate Jon Oosterhuis, Brown continues: "Jon's always the first guy up. And he embraces him. We all hug coach Harris, but Jon embraces him."

Adds Oosterhuis: " Oh yeah. I'm the first one up. It's tradition. Pre-game ritual. I need it."

All joking aside, Harris started the hugging with his defensive line back in B.C. and it quickly grew from there.

"I started with those guys, then other guys from other groups said, 'Hey, why do you just shake our hand? Why don't we get a hug like they do?' I have plenty to go around for everyone," he says.

Harris isn't the only coach with a pre-game routine.

Receivers coach Bobby Dyce makes a point of shaking the hand of each and every member of the Bombers offence before kickoff.

"I always leave my guys, the receivers, for last. And Milt (Stegall) is the absolute last hand I shake before the game. I try to give them each an individual message, you know, what I expect from them for the day, and luck and health," says Dyce.

In fact, Dyce says he often doesn't say a word to Stegall on game day until that handshake, preferring to leave the CFL's all time touchdown leader to his own quiet preparations.

"When I do speak to him, it may only be a sentence, maybe reminding him of a certain play where I know we're going to come to him," says Dyce. "Or sometimes , because I ask Milt to be an extension of me on the field, I'll say, 'If this happens, don't allow so-and-so to get down on himself.' Because he is just like another coach out there on the field."

For the rest of the receivers, the handshake and personal message is often just what they need before hitting the gridiron.

"When you're getting ready for the game, the whole atmosphere is like you're going into battle along with your teammates," says receiver Arjei Franklin.

"And when the coach is coming around and giving their encouragement and shaking hands, it's like the general is sending the troops off to war. And you know, sometimes all week long the coaches might give you a hard time because they want you to get better. So, finally, when it's time, they tell you to keep up the good work and get the job done. So, it's a nice feeling."

After that handshake, the receivers and quarterbacks will then split off from the rest of the team and gather in a circle for a short routine all their own.

Quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie explains: "We do five jumps -- everyone jumps five times. Then on the last jump, we land all together and we spread our hands out and do a little dance. It just gets us going for the game. So, it's kind of a little tradition."

After the dance, Kevin Glenn and Milt Stegall usually have a little something to say to the men who will lead the offensive charge.

"It's different every week and it's pretty much just one of those spur-of-the-moment things. I don't know what I'll say this week and I honestly don't remember what I said last week," says Glenn.

"But it's kind of getting us on the same page. It's just something we're all doing together, to get us ready for the game and reminding us that the quarterbacks can't do it without the receivers and the receivers can't do it without the quarterbacks."

But let's not forget the defensive backs. While DBs' coach Corey Chamblin says he just likes to leave his guys alone, his guys have a subtle little practice that starts during warm-ups and continues through all four quarters.

"Right before the play," says DB Robert Bean, "instead of giving each other a high-five the regular way, we hit the backs of our hands then put it to our chest by our hearts. So, we know it's all love. It's subtle. We do it every game. The backhand five. That's our focus."

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20 THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW

WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS

1. Since 1977, the Bombers and Riders have met in Winnipeg a week after the Labour Day Classic 11 times. The Bombers are 9-2 in those meetings.

2. Winnipeg leads the Banjo Bowl series 2-1, but it trails the Labour Day Classic series 23-18.

3. Here's an oddity: Winnipeg's Milt Stegall and Montreal's Ben Cahoon are tied for the league lead in receiving at the midway point of the season. Both have 686 yards, although Stegall has 23 fewer catches.

4. There have been only six interceptions in Winnipeg's nine games this season. Winnipeg is last in the league with three interceptions, but it is first in the loop with only three interceptions against.

5. The Bombers are 3-1 at home.

6. Quarterback Kevin Glenn remains on pace to set the Winnipeg Football Club record for most passing yards in a season with 5,534

7. Glenn needs 198 passing yards to move past Don Jonas and into fifth on the club's all-time passing list with 12,292.

8. Former Riders on the Bomber roster include Andrew Greene, Davin Bush, Derick Armstrong, Kevin Glenn, Kelly Malveaux, Matt O'Meara, Chris Cvetkovic and Mike Mahoney.

9. Milt Stegall has 23 touchdowns in 21 career games against Saskatchewan.

10. Linebacker Barrin Simpson is on pace for 122 tackles this year. That would leave him two shy of the franchise record of 124, which Greg Battle set in 1989.

SASKATCHEWAN ROUGHRIDERS

1. The Roughriders have won five straight games and, for the first time since 1976, are in first place in the West Division this late in the season.

2. If the Riders beat the Bombers in the Banjo Bowl, their 8-2 record would mark their best start to a season since 1970.

3. The last time Saskatchewan had a home playoff game was in 1988. The last time they won a home playoff game was in 1976 -- the only other time they've had a home playoff game in the last 31 years.

4. Quarterback Kerry Joseph's 348 passing yards last week was a career high for him against the Bombers. His previous best was 311 yards as a member of the Ottawa Renegades.

5. Joseph is 3-5 as a starter versus Winnipeg.

6. The Riders are 3-1 on the road.

7. Saskatchewan has a whopping four players who were No. 1 overall picks in the CFL draft: OL Wayne Smith (2004), DT Scott Schultz (2001), DT Tim Fleiszer (1998) and Val St. Germain (1994).

8. Former Bombers on the Roughrider roster include Mike Abou-Mechrek, Jermese Jones, Val St. Germain, Marc Parenteau, Henri Childs and Belton Johnson. The Bombers also once owned the rights to punter Jamie Boreham.

9. D.J. Flick leads the CFL with seven touchdown receptions. No other player has six.

10. The Roughriders this season have not allowed their opponent to rush for 100 yards in a game.


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