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BOMBSHELLS: Bombers can’t wait to celebrate 2019 Grey Cup win one more time with banner raising on Aug. 5

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Jermarcus Hardrick is a bear of a man who sometimes resembles a big happy kid on the football field.

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And the 6-foot-5, 320-pound offensive lineman looked and sounded a bit like a 10-year-old on Christmas morning Tuesday when talking about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ plan to unveil a banner commemorating their win in the 2019 Grey Cup game, when they hold their CFL home opener on Aug. 5 at IG Field.

“It’s gonna mean a lot to finally get a chance to see the banner,” Hardrick said after a Blue Bombers training camp session at IG Field.

“Just the entire season means so much to me but it’s gonna be pretty great to do that with our fans. The fans have been so great since I’ve been here. During the year and a half off, fans kept in touch with me and it just feels like family, man.”

The Bombers beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-12 in the 107th Grey Cup on November 24, 2019, but that was the last time they played a game. The entire 2020 season was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic and 2021 season has be delayed by a couple months.

The Aug. 5 game, again against the Tiger-Cats, will be special for many reasons but the raising of the Grey Cup banner should be truly memorable.

It will be the first major event in Manitoba with fans in attendance — up to 33,000 fully vaccinated spectators will be allowed in for the game — and it will be a pure celebration of Canadian football.

“Just the fact that there’s gonna be fans in there, it almost gives me chills right now,” the 31-year-old Hardrick said. “I’m just ready to pay them back, man, for all the things they’ve done over the years. It gets me excited just thinking about it right now … just ahhhh … just being in that moment.”

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Bombers coach Mike O’Shea, who led the team to its first Grey Cup win since 1990, probably doesn’t love the potential distraction of the banner-raising ceremony before an important game, but he’s looking forward to the moment nonetheless.

“It’s a great way to honour the fans,” he said. “They’ve stood by us since that 2019 season extremely well, supported us really well. You hear all the stories about fans that have gone their entire lives without seeing a Grey Cup so it’s going to be nice for a large group of them to get to witness that. It really is for them.”

Tiger-Cats receiver Bralon Addison recently told reporters that “It would be sweet to spoil (the Bombers) dropping the banner, I’m not gonna lie.”

Not normally one to engage in any kind of “bulletin board material” before a game, O’Shea had a funny response when told about Addison’s comment.

“I don’t know how you can spoil it … the banner is gonna be dropped, regardless,” O’Shea said. “The fans are gonna have their celebration and see the banner revealed and they’re gonna be enjoying it from the get-go.

“Unless (the Ticats) are planning on climbing to the roof and somehow sabotaging the rope system, I don’t know how that happens.”

HOME SWEET HOME

For the first time since training camp started on July 10, the Bombers practised on their home field Tuesday. The team spent the first two weeks of camp on an outdoor turf field at the University of Manitoba but were able to resume sessions at IG Field this week after the conclusion of the Canadian Premier League’s soccer bubble.

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You could sense a different kind of energy and excitement among the players and coaches on Tuesday.

“To walk through the stadium, to see the banners, to see the W (logo) everywhere, it gives you the chills,” Hardrick said. “It makes you feel like you haven’t been home in a while so it was great just to walk out and see blue everywhere. It almost felt like a dream.”

GETTING GOOD TEST

The three-week training camp will wrap up later this week and the Bombers will start preparations on Sunday for next Thursday’s season opener.

With no pre-season games and no formal scrimmages at practice, it will be interesting to see how the defending champions perform in the first of 14 games this season.

Hardrick is not concerned at all about going from training camp and practice reps straight into the first game of the season.

“Every day at practice, we’re scrimmaging,” Hardrick said. “I’m going against (defensive linemen) Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat every day so I’m pretty sure I’m getting game reps and good work.

“It would be great to go against another team but I’m loving this training camp so far, getting the rust knocked off. It’s not perfect, not to where we were in that Grey Cup year. But that’s past us and we’re ready to be the best we can be in 2021.”

DB BATTLE RAGES ON

The Bombers started training camp with 27 defensive backs on the roster and that number has now been whittled down to 18.

That means there’s still plenty of competition for jobs in the last week of training camp. Six of those players — mostly returning veterans — will be starters, a few more will make the roster as special teamers and several more should land on the practice squad or the taxi squad.

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But some players will be gone before Week 1 begins on Sunday and that should make for an interesting last few days of camp.

“It’s a lot of guys that are talented,” newcomer Demerio Houston said on Tuesday. “Every guy that has come in has his own skill set and they’re all talented so I’m just blessed to still be standing at the end of the day.”

Houston has been one of the stronger newcomers, despite the fact that he is a smaller DB at 5-foot-11, 155 pounds. While those dimensions likely wouldn’t cut it in the NFL, there are plenty of defensive backs in the CFL who are great athletes but don’t have the size for the four-down pro game.

“Demerio Houston, he is a talented young man with a bright future,” Houston said of himself. “I’ve been overlooked my whole life because of my size, but at the end of the day, it’s my abilities and it’s my heart. I just love playing football.”

OPTIMISTIC O’SHEA

The Bombers still have numerous players sitting out with injuries, including returning starters Andrew Harris and Darvin Adams.

Harris doesn’t seem close to taking part in practice at this point, while Adams was on the field Tuesday, doing some running, throwing and catching, but not in uniform. He’s starting to look like he could be back soon and be a possibility for the home opener, but all O’Shea would say is that he’s “optimistic” when it comes to Adams’ status.

Harris has barely practiced at all in training camp and didn’t appear to even be on the field Tuesday. Theoretically he could still play next Thursday but he’s going to have to get back into action very soon if that’s to happen.

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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