WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and B.C. Lions will both hit the field with heavy hearts on Thursday night at Canad Inns Stadium.
The Bombers are looking to improve to 4-1, which would be one of their hottest starts in years, while the Lions are 0-4 and desperately need a victory.
However, like many who will be involved in the game, Bombers defensive tackle Doug Brown will be thinking about more than winning or losing when he takes to the turf.
Bombers defensive line and assistant head coach Richard Harris passed away suddenly on Tuesday after having a heart attack in his office, and no one was closer to him than Brown. The CFL schedule says the show must go on, but Brown on Wednesday looked like someone who could have used another day or two.
The 6-foot-8, 290-pound behemoth paused frequently to fight back the tears when he met with the media.
“Obviously right now it’s difficult to think about the game tomorrow, but at the same time the only tribute you can make to the guy is to try and do him service on the field tomorrow,” Brown said, his eyes red.
“The biggest concern there is how do you live up to it? How can you honour a guy that’s done so much, has been such an ambassador for this province and this football team? How can you pay him enough respects on the football field?”
Brown’s teammates believe they will be able to find the motivation needed to play 60 minutes of football.
“I think we will because that’s what he would want us to do,” slotback Terrence Edwards said. “We can’t go out there and let up, because then we wouldn’t be honouring him.”
The game story was going to be Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce playing his former team for the first time after one of the best games of his career, but now it’s about paying tribute to a man who was respected across the league.
“At this point we have a unique opportunity,” Pierce said. “A lot of people that lose loved ones don’t have an opportunity to celebrate them. He’s a football coach, and we have the opportunity to go on the field and celebrate him as a man.”
The tributes have been pouring in from across the country for Harris, who spent the last decade in the CFL with the Lions, Ottawa Renegades and, for the last six years, the Bombers. Stadium flags flew at half mast on Wednesday, tears and hugs were prevalent, and Winnipeg’s walkthrough practice was the quietest in league history.
Just before noon, a woman pulled up in an SUV, got out and placed a few flowers on the ground outside the Bomber office’s front doors.
Thursday’s game will be an emotional one. The Bombers will wear ‘RH’ stickers on their helmets, and there will be a moment of silence along with a video tribute to Harris prior to kickoff.
GM and Lions head coach Wally Buono, who had Harris on his staff in B.C., noted it’s not only the Bombers whose emotions will be on the surface.
“We have guys like Angus (Reid) and Brent Johnson and Geroy (Simon) and a lot of the coaches that have worked with Richard,” Buono said. “It’s not something that is distant because he’s here in Winnipeg. A lot of people have a lot of fond memories of Richard Harris.”
Bombers defensive end Odell Willis will be dedicating the game to his late coach.
“Most definitely,” Willis said. “The game, this season and everything else I do out here on the field … it goes to him, 100%.”