WINNIPEG - One Winnipeg native will have mixed emotions when the current football stadium feels the wrecking ball.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will play their last CFL regular-season game at Canad Inns Stadium against the Toronto Argonauts on Friday, with one playoff game still to be played at the creaking old barn.
Next year, of course, the Bombers will play their home games at the spanking new facility at the University of Manitoba campus.
“Oh yeah, I played high school ball and I played pro ball on this field, both as a home-team guy and as a visitor,” said Bombers assistant coach Markus Howell, who grew up within blocks of the stadium.
Howell was drafted by the Bombers in 2000, signed with Ottawa in 2005, joined Calgary in the 2006 dispersal draft and retired in 2010, but came out of retirement to re-join the Bombers last season. He became Winnipeg’s defensive/special teams assistant this year.
“Now I get to coach on this field, too, so I have a lot of fond memories in this stadium, and I grew up watching some of the greats play in this stadium,” Howell said. “So it’s kind of sad to see it go, but I’m looking forward to the new facility as well.”
His favourite memory here?
“Winning that Eastern Final here and going to the Grey Cup,” he replied.
“Not too many bad ones,” he responded. “I guess the losses, but you try to forget them. Probably losing the Western Final against Saskatchewan in ’03.”
Head coach Paul LaPolice has two favourite stadium memories, the second being last year’s home-opener, his first as Winnipeg’s head coach.
The other happened in 2002 when he was the team’s offensive co-ordinator. After two big wins to open the season, a Bombers loss gave the Ottawa Renegades their first victory.
LaPolice said he felt the pressure, being a young co-ordinator, to prove he knew his stuff. The Bombers got the Renegades in a rematch a week later at home, on July 17, 2002, and smoked them 55-7.
He was talking to his mom after the game, and she reminded him of the date.
“She said it’s pretty great this happened on your dad’s birthday, and my dad had passed away a couple years back,” LaPolice said. “I had totally forgotten the date. So it was kind of weird for me. I went out on the field by myself, like he was hanging out with me and helping me. That’s a memory I’ll always cherish.”
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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are pulling out all the stops to pay tribute to their home for the last 58 years.
The last regular-season home game will be played at Canad Inns Stadium on Friday night against the Toronto Argonauts. Bomber alumni, including Milt Stegall, have been invited back, and a nine-minute video tribute to the stadium, produced by Neuman Films, will be shown at halftime.
The team will also have two honourary captains at the game with significant ties to the stadium. Anna King, the sister of Jack Jacobs, and Tyler Livingston, the eldest son of Tyrone Jones, will be on hand.
The Stadium has always been known as The House That Jack Built, since the popularity of Jacobs, the Bomber quarterback, led to the construction of the park in 1953.
Jones, meanwhile, was a feared middle linebacker for the Bombers in the 1980s and ’90s, and will be inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame next year.
The Snowbirds will do a flyover before the game, a fireworks display will take place after the match, and every fan will receive a commemmorative final game ticket.
— Kirk Penton