HAMILTON – It was the moment Kenny Lawler realized what the Gray Cup is all about.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were in Calgary for the 2019 championship game when the California catcher walked into a hotel ballroom for an event and saw the silver cup on a table.
“I’m just watching the Gray Cup and watching team after team, year after year. And it’s like this is a piece of history,” Lawler, now in his fourth year in the league, said after Thursday’s practice at Tim Hortons Field. The Bombers play the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday in Hamilton for the 110th Gray Cup.
“You have everyone’s name on there, every team that’s winning, and that’s cool in itself. From there, I thought, ‘Hey, this is something that means a lot.'”
Quarterback Zach Collaros realized the same thing in 2012, when he was a rookie reserve quarterback with the Gray Cup-winning Toronto Argonauts.
“I remember that whole week not knowing anything about the Gray Cup. But being in Toronto and going to all the different restaurants and parties during the week, I discovered that this is a celebration of the country, of the league, not just of the two teams that play… I thought it was interesting,” Collaros said .
“The longer I have been in the CFL, I have understood its importance to the fabric of the country. “I think every year it’s grown, but 2012 was certainly eye-opening seeing fans come from all over the country to not only support the teams that are in it, but also wear their colors and I thought that was really cool.”
For some reason, the average American gamer is simply unfamiliar with one of Canada’s best annual traditions.
“I didn’t know… It was when I first got to Canada, honestly, when I first got to the team,” admitted catcher Drew Wolitarsky, who grew up in California.
“That was the mission. Everyone kept talking about it, so I had to look it up. They said, ‘It’s the CFL Super Bowl, bro,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, that’s tight.'”
Once they catch up, they’ll all be in. Defensive tackle Ricky Walker won it with the Blue and Gold in 2021 as a backup, but he now has the opportunity to add to his ring collection as a starter.
Walker has five family members traveling to Hamilton from Virginia for the big game. It will be the first time they set foot on Canadian soil.
“Man, it’s a big deal. That’s why we play the game. That’s why you work hard and put in the time, blood, sweat and tears with your brothers to get the ultimate reward,” Walker said.
“I’m lucky to be in my third consecutive Gray Cup… Being able to look in the stands and see my parents and my brothers this time is going to be incredible.
This will be head coach Mike O’Shea’s eighth CFL title game: four with the Argos (three as a player, one as an assistant coach) and now four as the leader of the Bombers. He is 7-1 in Sunday’s championship game, but he has said repeatedly over the years that his favorite part of winning is seeing everyone else in the locker room celebrating the feat, especially the rookies.
“It is a magnificent trophy and it is a century of history. You could cut it down and have less story and you’d still marvel at how guys would react to winning a championship,” O’Shea said.
“But again, this will be number 110. You can show them pictures of when the boys won the cup and it was basically just the top of a small base, and they get it. They have the idea that 110 years ago kids were chasing the same dream. They filled it with beer and drank like these guys had the opportunity to do in the past. “There is something powerful about that.”
Lawler feels very grateful this week
Unlike several of his teammates, Kenny Lawler can’t say he’s been to the last four Gray Cups.
That’s because the star receiver spent 2022 with the Edmonton Elks. He accepted a contract worth $305,000, making him the highest-paid non-quarterback in the league.
The money was good, but playing for a team that went 4-14 was not. Lawler rejoined the Bombers in the offseason and on Thursday offered some advice to all of his teammates who are on expired contracts and tempted to try their luck in free agency.
“Don’t go to Edmonton,” Lawler said.
“I thought the grass might be greener on the other side. This here, Winnipeg, is a great place to be. I knew (Edmonton) might not be as good, but maybe (if) I water where my feet (are) the grass will be greener. I tried to water a lot there and it didn’t work.”
Lawler was also asked if the receiving corps needs to step up Sunday if leading receiver Dalton Schoen (ankle) doesn’t play.
Instead of offering a response, Lawler sat behind the microphone for more than 10 seconds without saying a word.
“I just took O’Shea’s advice,” Lawler said with a smile.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor started at Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of…