In a standard yr, grocery retailer snack aisles can be packed this weekend with folks in jerseys, face paint and doubtless wild wigs and peculiar hats.

Canadian soccer followers are a particular, vibrant breed, and this could have been their time to essentially let free.

They would have been loading up on treats for Gray Cup Sunday — a day most probably embedded of their brains like the emblem pressed into the leather-based of a CFL soccer.

“The league is an actual piece of Canadiana. It’s totally distinctive and it brings collectively a novel group of people that like it,” mentioned Bob Irving, who has been CJOB Radio’s play-by-play voice for Winnipeg Blue Bombers video games since 1975.

“It is an actual folks’s league. It is not just like the Tremendous Bowl, the place you want 1000’s of {dollars} to get into any of the occasions,” he mentioned.

Throughout Gray Cup week, “you can get into the events … and meet folks from throughout the nation, followers of all the opposite groups, and it is all in good enjoyable and in good spirit,” mentioned Irving.

“It is a very particular week certainly on the Canadian calendar — by no means thoughts the Canadian sports activities calendar, however the Canadian calendar, interval.”

CFL followers are a vibrant bunch, like these celebrating previous to the 102nd Gray Cup in Vancouver, B.C., in 2014. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

A Saskatchewan Roughriders fan lives it up previous to the 2013 Gray Cup in Regina. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

However there are no shenanigans this yr. No steed being trotted right into a resort by Calgary Stampeders followers. No swapping of collector pins, or steaming pancake breakfasts or late-night celebration tents.

COVID-19 obliterated all of it. The season by no means even started.

For the primary time in 101 years, the CFL’s championship trophy is not going to be handed out. That hasn’t occurred because the 1919 recreation was nullified by a guidelines dispute between rugby organizations, and since the nation was nonetheless recovering from each the 1918-19 Spanish flu epidemic and the First World Battle, which put the 1916-18 seasons on maintain.

Calgary Stampeders followers horse round earlier than the 105th Gray Cup in Ottawa in 2017. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Costumed CFL followers are seen on the 2018 Gray Cup in Edmonton. None of their groups have been even within the huge recreation. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

This yr’s huge recreation, slated to be performed in Regina’s Mosaic Stadium on Nov. 22, would have been Irving’s 48th consecutive Gray Cup as both a fan or broadcaster.

“Not being within the Gray Cup metropolis throughout Gray Cup week may be very uncommon and completely different. And I miss it,” he mentioned.

“Within the final couple of Sundays I have been marking these days as what would have been the West [Division] semifinal, then the West ultimate final Sunday, after which this Sunday, in fact, the Gray Cup.

“To get to this time within the season and never have the good playoff video games and the drama surrounding them … it creates a void for certain. It is actually a tragic interval within the historical past of the league.”

The CFL cancelled the 2020 Gray Cup Recreation and Pageant slated for Regina this weekend. Regina will now host it in 2022. (CBC Information)

The void comes after the Bombers received their first Gray Cup title in 29 years last season, defeating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Calgary.

Holding onto the title by default, although, does not make them champs for 2 straight years, Irving famous a chuckle.

“Lots of people need to say that. They’re the defending Gray Cup champions, we are able to say that,” he mentioned.

“We’ll see if they’ll win two in a row once we get again to enjoying.”

Bob Irving has been calling Winnipeg Blue Bombers video games on CJOB Radio since 1975. The 70-year-old was inducted into the Soccer Reporters of Canada part of the Canadian Soccer Corridor of Fame in 1997. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The league on Friday expressed optimism for a 2021 season, announcing a schedule with the primary recreation being a 2019 Gray Cup rematch between the Bombers and Ticats.

Till then, recollections from Winnipeg’s 33–12 win should carry Bombers followers.

A season to recollect

And there is a lot to mirror on, mentioned Irving, beginning with the truth that final season, the Bombers (11-7, third place within the West Division) have been seen as enormous underdogs to the 15-Three Ticats, who held the CFL’s greatest report and have been on a seven-game win streak.

However the Bombers have been using a wave of confidence as nicely, knocking off Calgary within the semifinal — their first win in that metropolis in twenty years.

Calgary’s McMahon Stadium fills with blue and gold confetti in 2019 after the Winnipeg Blue Bombers received the Gray Cup final November, ending a 29-year drought. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

They then went into Saskatchewan and dropped the West’s top team 20-13, after a nail-gnawing finish that had the Roughriders on purpose line twice within the ultimate two minutes, pushing for a game-tying landing, however the Bombers defence was a wall. 

With 4 seconds left, an finish zone move by Riders QB Cody Fajardo hit the crossbar of the uprights. Lifeless ball. Recreation over.

“The ambiance, you possibly can might reduce the strain with a knife on the finish of that recreation. It was only a spectacular ending,” Irving mentioned. 

The Bombers did it with quarterback Zach Collaros, who Saskatchewan had tossed apart. Collaros began the season with the Riders however suffered a concussion in Recreation 1. Saskatchewan traded him to Toronto in late July, however Collaros did not play a recreation there.

Andrew Harris celebrates after defeating the Saskatchewan Roughriders within the CFL West ultimate in Regina on Nov. 17, 2019. Per week later he would go on to be named the Gray Cup’s prime participant and prime Canadian. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

He was picked up by the Bombers in a commerce deadline deal six weeks earlier than the Gray Cup, after accidents hobbled Winnipeg’s QBs. Matt Nichols had season-ending surgical procedure and Chris Streveler suffered an ankle damage within the second-last common season recreation.

Collaros went 4-0, together with three consecutive highway wins to clinch the cup. The Bombers solely received three on the highway all season previous to that.

As for Streveler, many assumed his season was achieved. However the QB constructed like a tank confirmed up with a closely taped ankle and went to work. Within the West semi, he set a CFL playoff report by taking 23 snaps with out trying a move, operating despite his damage.

Within the Gray Cup, he threw a landing move, rushed 30 yards and caught a move on a trick play.

The 2019 Bombers additionally featured 4 Winnipeg-born heroes in Andrew Harris, Nic Demski, Brady Oliveira and Geoff Grey.

Harris, who was three years previous the final time the Bombers received the championship, became the first player in CFL history to be named the Gray Cup’s prime participant and prime Canadian.

Chris Streveler raises the cup with different gamers throughout the Gray Cup parade in Winnipeg on Nov. 26, 2019. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

And the staff helped long-suffering fan Chris Matthew to lastly pull on his pants, whereas 1000’s of different diehard Blue and Gold trustworthy crowded downtown Winnipeg for a parade to The Forks.

A beer-swilling, shirtless Streveler — wearing a fur coat and cowboy hat — embodied the celebration temper.

“[The victory and parade] introduced the followers out and the love for the Blue Bombers in a approach that actually underlined how vital this group, this staff is to the fibre of this neighborhood,” mentioned Irving.

That is why the lack of the 2020 season stings a lot, he mentioned.

“They have been bringing a lot of the championship staff again, and most of us felt they might have one other nice likelihood to win it once more,” Irving mentioned.

“The possibility to take one other run at it this yr — boy, that is a misplaced alternative that I do know weighs closely on the gamers.”

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