Argos, Blue Bombers hold their final practices prior to Grey Cup game

Argos, Blue Bombers hold their final practices prior to Grey Cup game
Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros shakes hands with teammates during a walk-through in Regina, Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. The CFL's outstanding player the last two seasons plans to spend his Saturday night with his wife, Nicole, young daughters Sierra and Capri as well as his in-laws.

The night before the Grey Cup offered Zach Collaros an opportunity to catch up on the latest episodes of Gabby’s Dollhouse.

The CFL’s outstanding player the last two seasons planned to spend his Saturday night with his wife, Nicole, young daughters Sierra and Capri as well as his in-laws. Following dinner, Collaros expected to sit with Sierra and watch Gabby’s Dollhouse, an animated-interactive preschool series.

It’s some welcomed family time for the veteran quarterback, who’ll lead the Winnipeg Blue Bombers into the Grey Cup on Sunday versus the Toronto Argonauts at Mosaic Stadium. The West Division team is chasing a third straight CFL title.

“We’ll do dinner and all that (but) probably a healthy dose of watching Gabby’s Dollhouse and trying to get Sierra to sit in bed for a little bit,” Collaros said Saturday following Winnipeg’s final walk-through. “Capri will let me hold her so that’s good but we’ll try to get Sierra wound down to read some books to her (before bedtime)”

Winnipeg comes in as the heavy favourite after registering a CFL-best 15-3 regular-season record. Collaros repeated as the CFL’s top player after winning 15-of-17 starts and throwing a league-high 37 TDs.

But Collaros wasn’t alone. Tackle Stanley Bryant (lineman), receiver Dalton Schoen (rookie) and head coach Mike O’Shea (top coach) were also honoured Thursday night at the CFL awards banquet.

And even with three championships under his belt, Collaros expected to feel some anxiousness before Sunday’s contest.

“I have the same feelings before any game,” he said. “You don’t get many opportunities in this sport to go out and play and prove yourself.

“I certainly feel those butterflies or some level of anxiety and excitement.”

Winnipeg is attempting to become the first CFL team to win three straight titles since Edmonton captured five consecutive Grey Cups (1978-82).

Toronto last won the Grey Cup in 2017 but has been victorious in its last six championship appearances.

O’Shea, 52, of North Bay, Ont., is a five-time Grey Cup champion as a player (1996, ’97 and ’04 with Toronto), assistant coach (2012, Argos special-teams co-ordinator) and head coach. O’Shea said whatever an individual feels before the Grey Cup, he doesn’t believe it’s nerves.

“The interesting thing about many athletes is their body gets ready to run or to fight (and) you get that charge of adrenalin,” O’Shea said. “I don’t ever think of it as nerves, I think it’s just your body getting ready to tell you to do something.”

O’Shea certainly knows that feeling well. The six-foot-three, 228-pound linebacker played 16 seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (1993-95, 2000) and Toronto (1996-99, 2001-08). O’Shea appeared in 271 regular-season games and accumulated 1,151 tackles — the most by a Canadian and second in league history — before being inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2017.

So does O’Shea wish he was playing Sunday?

“Yeah, probably until the first play,” he said with a smile. “Then I’d be like, ‘You see my spot right there on the bench by the heater?'”

Be it as a player, coach or as a football fan, the Grey Cup will always be special to O’Shea.

“When you see pictures of previous champions hoisting the Cup and they’re drinking out of the same Cup that if you’re good enough that day, you’ll get a chance to drink out . . . it’s pretty powerful,” he said. “There’s something about that, sharing the same passion, vision, desire, goal as guys did 109 years ago, I can’t escape that feeling.

“I do think it’s a great Canadian sporting event that people celebrate from coast to coast and have a good time doing it. They create a lot of memories while they’re watching games and celebrating. We can’t have a Grey Cup every week, it might lose its lustre, but you need more of that in countries where you get unified over something fun. I love our league, it’s the best league in the world.”

After a chilly week, a Mosaic Stadium sellout of over 33,000 spectators can expect somewhat warmer gameday conditions Sunday. The forecast is calling for a daytime high of -1C, falling to -11C in the evening.

But it will be windy, with gusts of 47 kilometres an hour during the day, reducing to 38 km/h in the evening.

“It’s not a surprise that it might be windy,” said Collaros, a former Rider (2018-19). “We’re prepared for whatever element Mother Nature brings to us.”

Toronto head coach Ryan Dinwiddie, who was Winnipeg’s quarterback in its ’07 Grey Cup loss to Saskatchewan, also downplayed the impact the wind might have.

“I don’t think the weather is going to factor into it too much,” he said. “We’re going to have to deal with some wind potentially but I don’t think it will be too cold for our guys to operate and function and play good football.”

Dinwiddie planned to spend part of his Saturday night with his coaches, then review the Argos’ offensive callsheet. Dinwiddie is also Toronto’s offensive coordinator.

“Nothing different from what you do for the other 18 games that you play during the regular season,” Dinwiddie said. “Normally, I grab a beer or two with the coaches, talk about the gameplan and have a nice dinner.

“I’m a big visualization guy so I’ll be visualizing going through the callsheet and kind of what to expect Sunday, put your feet up and relax and get excited for the next day.”

But it will have been an early night for Dinwiddie and the Argos as the club has an 11 p.m. (local time) curfew. And while Toronto had its final practice Saturday, Dinwiddie said the pre-game planning won’t stop until the Grey Cup kickoff.

“We always say, ‘The hay is never in the barn until kickoff,'” he said. “I know the guys are focused, we had a great walk-through (Saturday), this is the sharpest we’ve been all week.

“The guys understand what’s at stake and know they have to be at their best. I keep telling them they just have to go win a football game, (then) they hand you the Grey Cup.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2022.

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