Big crowds turn out for Bombers camp

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:55 PM ET

The biggest crowd Buck Pierce ever saw at a B.C. Lions training camp practice was about 100.

You’re not in B.C. anymore, Buck.

The quarterback whom fans are expecting will get the Winnipeg Blue Bombers back on the winning track looked good on the first day of training camp on Sunday, zipping quick passes and unleashing long bombs in front of approximately 2,500 spectators at Canad Inns Stadium.

“We enjoy it. We love having the support,” Pierce said before signing autographs and posing for pictures. “This is a fan league, and Winnipeg is one of the best. This just kind of goes to show the impact of this football organization on this city.

“… This is something special. It sure is, as a player, a great feeling. Wow, what a welcome.”

If any fan damage was done during Mike Kelly’s dysfunctional reign in 2009, it sure wasn’t evident on Sunday as young and old, male and female, showed up to welcome the born-again Bombers under the hot spring sun.

“I’m just thrilled,” president Jim Bell, who took over for Lyle Bauer during the off-season, said as he surveyed the crowd. “This is tremendous.”

To put the attendance in perspective, about 300 spectators showed up for the first day of training camp last year. It was a bit cooler on opening day in 2009 and there wasn’t nearly as much promotion, but there was a buzz nonetheless at the park on Sunday and the players embraced it.

“What a good opportunity it is for us players to get this personal connection with the fans,” Pierce said.

While the marketing department is burning the midnight oil to get the fans fired up for the franchise’s 80th anniversary, the man in charge of the players did the same on Saturday night at the first team meeting. New head coach Paul LaPolice showed his troops a video that contained clips of legendary heavyweight champ Joe Louis knocking out opponents along with shots of the Bombers scoring touchdowns.

The Bombers were named after Louis, also known as the Brown Bomber, in the 1930s, and LaPolice said the history lesson/motivational message went over well with his charges.

“The players were really fired up,” LaPolice said. “A lot of guys I talked to didn’t know that (the Bombers were named after Louis). They thought it was something from World War II. We had a lot of clips of Joe’s knockouts.

“… We’re trying to relate that to what we can be. It was a neat message the guys got.”

So everyone is excited, but it’s always that way on Day 1. It’ll be up to LaPolice, Pierce and the rest of them to keep it that way.

“It was a great day, and people are ready and excited for football again,” LaPolice said. “Keep coming down. We’ll be here every day all week. Skip work.”

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca


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