Grieving Bombers get emotional win for Harris

A sign from a Blue Bombers fan pays tribute to late defensive line coach Richard Harris during a...

A sign from a Blue Bombers fan pays tribute to late defensive line coach Richard Harris during a moment of silence prior to the team's game against the B.C. Lions on Thursday. (FRED GREENSLADE/Reuters)

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:43 AM ET

WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Blue Bombers won on Thursday night, and that’s fine.

It wouldn’t have mattered had they lost.

No one knew how a football team would react after nearly half of the players watched their assistant head coach die in front of their eyes two days earlier.

You could see by the looks on Brendon LaBatte’s face and Buck Pierce’s face and Obby Khan’s face on Tuesday afternoon that they had just seen something that would be with them forever.

And when you get decked like that emotionally, it has to affect you physically. The Bombers were missing something in the first half on Thursday night, and it was more than the enormous void left by Tuesday’s sudden death of Richard Harris.

Then again, more than a few people will no doubt claim that the lovable Harris was pulling some strings over a sold-out Canad Inns Stadium on Thursday night as the Bombers pulled out a late, fourth-quarter victory — on the arm of Alex Brink, no less.

Brink, who replaced an injured Pierce early in the fourth quarter, hit Terrence Edwards with a 22-yard touchdown pass with 3:34 to go in the fourth quarter. It was the first touchdown toss of his CFL career, and it proved to be the winning score in Winnipeg’s 25-20 triumph.

The Bombers presented the game ball to Harris’ widow, Tami, after the game. Bombers right tackle Glenn January said they weren’t going to do it after a loss.

“We were giving the game ball to coach Harris’ wife, and we weren’t going to give her a game ball from a losing effort,” January said. “That’s something we talked about as a unit. We just decided we needed to overcome.”

Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice told the media on Wednesday his team, which was still in shock, was going to need the fans to pick up his team. Those fans responded late in the fourth by making it impossible for Lions quarterback Travis Lulay to hear himself think.

The players fed off of it as well, getting that boost they desperately needed after trailing at the half.

“That was the hardest game for us to play,” January said. “It still kind of feels like it was a dream. You’re just out there — I wouldn’t say going through the motions — but you have so much going through your head.”

In a great gesture, the Lions and Bombers met in the middle of the field before the game to observe the moment of silence for Harris, the father figure to so many — on both sidelines, considering he also coached the Lions between 2001 and 2004.

Once the opening kickoff happened, though, you wouldn’t have known anything was different. Quarterbacks got sacked, Geroy Simon made a dazzling one-handed grab, the cheerleaders juked and jived to LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem, and Pierce left with a pulled calf.

If you looked a little closer, though, you would have seen and felt the emotional undercurrent. Some fans brought signs paying tribute to Harris, others had T-shirts with a picture of the big teddy bear on it. There was a nice half-time video tribute to the beloved coach as well.

Even ex-Bombers defensive end Tom Canada was in the house. He told his employers in Idaho he wouldn’t be able to guide a river raft tour this weekend, hopped in his truck and headed for Winnipeg to grieve with his old teammates.

The entire night was a fitting testimonial to Harris. It was the perfect tone. It was emotionally charged, but not over the top. The players gave it their all. Six sacks by the defence was a fitting salute.

“I was happy we were on defence to win the game,” LaPolice said. “We had help.”

So the Bombers are 4-1, tying their best start in eight seasons. The Lions are 0-5, and the heat is on them even more. In the end, none of it will matter.

As long as the players remember the way Harris lived and they try to conduct themselves in the same way, the world will be a better place. Don’t mean to be so sappy, but sappy statements like that were made for people like Harris.

The next time you see a stranger, do what Harris would have done: smile and say hi.

That’s the best kind of tribute anyone could give him.


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