Heroes' welcome in 'Peg

JIM BENDER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:37 AM ET

They may have returned as Grey Cup losers but the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were given a heroes' welcome at the airport yesterday.

About 250 raucous fans waving white pom-poms, a military band blaring and gymnasts flying through the air greeted the Bombers the morning after they had dropped a 23-19 decision to the prairie-rival Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL championship in Toronto.

"In some ways, it felt like we won," said a surprised Bombers GM Brendan Taman. "This was outstanding. I've never seen anything like this. It shows you what kind of support this place is all about. It's a nice touch ... (The loss) hurt. We check in this morning (at the airport) in Toronto and they're (Riders) walking by us with the Grey Cup. So, that was doubly tough."

So the welcoming cheers were just what the football doctor ordered.

"It's fabulous," said head coach Doug Berry. "I can't believe how many people are here ... I know our team needed their spirits lifted and this has just been awesome. It's almost as if we had won the Grey Cup. We know we didn't but it sure was uplifting to everybody's spirits.

"I'm sure glad to see all these people out here. We've had a real good season and these guys have no reason to hang their heads. It's been an outstanding accomplishment when you think about how far we've come in just two years."

Berry led the Bombers back into the playoffs in his first campaign last season and all the way to the Grey Cup game this year, only to fall short with starting quarterback Kevin Glenn sidelined by a broken arm.

"I'm glad these people are here, man," said linebacker Ike Charlton. "They're diehard fans so these people were probably with us from Day One. These are probably the fans who believed in us and it's a great feeling to have them here. I want to thank them for being here. We appreciate the support and we look forward to doing something next year ... I love it."

But the loss still stings.

"We definitely appreciate it because it was a tough loss to take going out there and losing that game and the fans being here supporting us, that's big," said linebacker Barrin Simpson. "So close and yet, so far. That's the exact words for it because the (Grey Cup) ring can be like a phantom sometimes and it was definitely whisked away from us (Sunday)."

Bomber president/CEO Lyle Bauer appreciated the effort, especially playing the game with the untested Ryan Dinwiddie replacing Glenn.

"They had significant odds against them and our players did an unbelievable job of rallying together," Bauer said. "Losing never sits well but I can't tell you how proud I am of these guys and they came very close."

Berry echoed those sentiments.

"I'm awfully proud of the way they fought all year long," he said. "Winning wasn't always easy for us and when we won, we won with a total team effort and this team just exemplifies the way I want to have a team play."

And they do have a good enough core to get back there next year.

"As a veteran of seven years, I know how hard it is to get there and to lose the game was pretty devastating," Simpson said. "We do have the nucleus to get back there. We'll see what happens throughout the off-season and see who's here and who's not. But as far as the nucleus goes, we have the team to do it."

Meanwhile, veteran slotback Milt Stegall, who is expected to retire, declined comment on his future to a media horde at the airport.


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