Brady Oliveira will be a key figure Sunday.
The five-foot-10, 222-pound running back ran for a league-best 1,534 yards in capturing the CFL’s top Canadian award. He accumulated 238 of those yards in leading the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to a 2-0 regular-season sweep of the Montreal Alouettes.
The two teams meet in the Grey Cup for the first time. Winnipeg is making a fourth straight appearance and chasing a third win after last year’s 24-23 loss to the Toronto Argonauts.
Playing in the Grey Cup is fast becoming an annual rite for Oliveira. The 26-year-old Winnipeg native has completed all three of his full CFL seasons in the league’s championship contest.
“You can’t take this for granted,” Oliveira said. “This is obviously very special … some guys play, seven, eight, nine, 10 years and don’t go to one Grey Cup.
“I’m very, very lucky but the job’s not done.”
Despite its recent Grey Cup success, Winnipeg is 12-15 overall in the CFL championship game but is an eight-point favourite this year. Montreal has won seven times in 18 appearances.
Winnipeg is the first CFL club to appear in four straight Grey Cups since Edmonton appeared in six consecutive games (1977-82), winning the final five.
Oliveira’s success this season wasn’t by accident as the run is an integral part of Winnipeg’s offence. The Bombers led the CFL in rushing (139.1 yards per game) and attempts (448) and were second in average gain per attempt (5.6 yards).
Oliveira had a CFL-high 260 carries and his nine rushing TDs were tied with Ottawa quarterback Dustin Crum for the league lead. Oliveira also registered 38 catches for 482 yards and four TDs.
Winnipeg led the CFL in offensive points (31.7 per game), TDs (62), net offence (414.7 yards) and was second overall in passing (292.4 yards). Quarterback Zach Collaros, the CFL’s outstanding player in 2021-22, was second in passing (4,252 yards) but tops in TD strikes (33).
On Sunday, Collaros will be the first CFL quarterback to start four consecutive Grey Cups. He also earned a ring as a backup with Toronto in 2012.
“If you want to stack the box, you see who we have as receivers and the best quarterback in the league, hands down,” Oliveira said. “He’ll take his shots and make his shots accurately and get the ball to our skill-position players.
“Stack the box, we’ll throw it over top. Lighten the box and we’ll gash you.”
Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea said while he could understand Montreal wanting to stop the run Sunday, he doesn’t feel that will be their only goal.
“Sure, it would be a priority,” he said. “But I don’t know that (in) this type of game with two teams that have got here that you can ever focus on one thing.
“I mean, everybody’s got enough weapons to win differently.”
Winnipeg receiver Dalton Schoen (ankle) and linebacker Adam Bighill (right leg) will both be game-time decisions. Neither practised this week.
Bighill was hurt in Winnipeg’s 24-13 West Division final win over B.C. last weekend. Schoen has missed the Bombers’ last three games.
Winnipeg won four-of-six games versus East Division rivals but one of its losses was a 29-23 decision to Hamilton at Tim Hortons Field on Sept. 16. The Bombers were also 6-3 away from IG Field.
Montreal was 4-4 against West Division squads and 6-3 on the road.
The weather leading up to Sunday’s game has been terrific, with brilliant sunshine and mild temperatures save for rainy, cool conditions on Friday. Sunday’s forecast calls for 7 C and sunshine during the day with temperature dropping to 2 C in the evening.
But as is always the case at Tim Hortons Field, wind will be a factor with gusts up to 27 kilometres an hour expected in the evening.
The game is a sellout.
This will mark the second time the Grey Cup game is played at Tim Hortons Field in three years. The contest was also held here in 2021, the year after the CFL resumed play after cancelling the 2020 season due to the global pandemic.
But in 2021, social-distancing protocols were in place. So the CFL awarded Hamilton the 2023 contest to give its organizing committee a better opportunity to stage a full Grey Cup festival.
Country superstar Carrie Underwood and reggae icon Shaggy took centre stage in the Grey Cup’s music festival.
Grammy Award-winning band Green Day headlines the halftime show. The American punk rock band has sold over 75 million records and was inducted into Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2015, its first year of eligibility.
Jamie Fine, an Ottawa-born singer-songwriter, will be featured on the Grey Cup Kickoff Show. The four-time JUNO nominee performed in her hometown as part of the CFL’s Thursday Night Football Concert Series in 2018.
Simone Soman, a visually impaired singer from Waterdown, Ont., will perform the national anthem.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press