WINNIPEG - They handed out the Stanley Cup in Vancouver last night, sparking a celebration that’ll last for a while.
Today, competition begins for the next one. And for the first time in 15 years, Winnipeg is in the race.
So allow us to fantasize, for a minute, what it would be like here in the Land That Championships Forgot, to wind up on top, for a change.
That may be difficult, given the 20-year drought of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the 32-year famine since the last pro hockey title.
But it’s not going to stop us from trying.
So let’s peek into the crystal ball and see what ’the Peg might be like for sports fans in the (distant?) future...
(insert dreamy harp music, here)
It’s noon on a warm, muggy day in June, but mosquitoes aren’t a problem in downtown Winnipeg these days.
The environmentally friendly control program in effect the last two decades only gets part of the credit. Winnipeggers, it seems, are just too damn happy to even notice the little buggers.
On this day, the entire city seems to be wearing one, big, face-eating grin.
The brand new office towers along Portage Avenue look like they’ve grown hundreds of tiny arms, every window overflowing with humanity, as hands wave towels, flags, anything carrying the logo of this burgeoning prairie city’s pro hockey team.
Down in the street below, a line of convertibles from bygone days, some as far back as the 1990s, is smothered by ticker-tape, each vehicle carrying a member of the Stanley Cup champion.
It’s a scene the oldtimers around here couldn’t have fathomed in the early part of the century, as this once hard-luck town didn’t even have an NHL franchise.
Now, it’s not only part of the club, it’s King of the Hill, finally giving hockey fans a feeling of equality with their gridiron brethren.
Yes, the days of the Manitoba drought seem like an eternity ago, in more ways than one.
Not only have the two great lakes, Winnipeg and Manitoba, merged after decades of above-normal precipitation, so, too, have the two great sports, as River City now boasts the CFL and NHL champions — football’s Blue Bombers having reigned for a franchise record-setting three consecutive years.
Toss in two titles in the last four years by the independent baseball team, and there’s no doubt sports fans here have never had it so good.
Edmonton, City of Champions? Yeah, right.
“It’s a great day in Winnerpeg!” Mayor Ryan Hosegood, grandson of legendary Blue Bomber quarterback Ken Ploen, told tens of thousands gathered at Portage and Main before the parade.
Not only are Winnipeg’s teams beating up on the rest of the globe — defeating the Stockholm Scorpions in the Stanley Cup Final was a particularly nice touch, given this city’s history with Swedish players — they’re padding their bank accounts while doing it.
You think three years of sellouts at the expanded, 20,000-seat downtown arena is impressive? The Bombers haven’t had an empty seat at their nifty U of M campus playpen in five years.
“It’s all a little surreal,” Hosegood said.
“My grandfather used to tell me about championship droughts that lasted decades in football, even longer in hockey. I can’t even imagine it.”
Come to think of it, neither can I.