Willie Jefferson appreciates patient Winnipeg fans after ‘bum-rush’ in Saskatchewan

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The Saskatchewan Roughriders have a passionate fan base, but it appears as though some particularly fervent fans wore on Willie Jefferson’s patience during his stint in Regina.

“When I stepped out into the community, it was always a bum-rush type of thing. Nobody wanted to give me my time to deal with my family when my little girl was small since I had to focus on her,” said Jefferson regarding his tenure with the Riders.

“My wife was dealing with my daughter while she was young, so I’m trying to help my wife and every time it was like that it was just people wanted me to sign something, take a picture or something like that.”

Jefferson signed with the Riders in September 2016 after he was cut by the Washington Football Team near the end of training camp. He quickly became a superstar in Saskatchewan, recording 21 sacks over two-plus seasons and receiving back-to-back league all-star selections (2017-18).

The six-foot-seven, 255-pound pass rusher elected not to return to Regina as a free agent in February 2019, signing instead with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. He has since come to appreciate the way in which fans interact with him in the Manitoba capital, suggesting they have a little more patience than their prairie counterparts.

“When I went to Winnipeg, people gave me my space. They would wait. If anything they would stand back and wait and let me handle what’s going on with my wife and my daughter and then be like, ‘Hey, I saw you doing that, I’m sorry that I stood over here and waited but could you please (sign an autograph or take a picture)?'” said Jefferson.

“I’m more than happy, more than willing. You took the time to step back and let me handle what I had to handle. I can step over here and be with you now and give my all to you as a fan and I appreciate that.”

Jefferson has flourished in Winnipeg, recording 19 sacks and nine forced fumbles over 32 regular season games. He was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2019, selected as a league all-star in both years, and won two more Grey Cups after capturing his first with Edmonton in 2015.

The soon-to-be 31-year-old re-signed with the Blue Bombers on Thursday and believes the team has an opportunity to win a third-straight Grey Cup title. He expressed his love for the organization, but spoke at length about how much he has enjoyed Winnipeg’s fans.

“Me just being a regular person going to the mall, going to Walmart, the Superstore, the movie theatre, whatever, and people just saying like — just letting me be me. They’re not right up on me asking for autographs, even though when they do run up on me asking for autographs and pictures and stuff like that I’m willing to take them and sign autographs,” said Jefferson.

“But sometimes when I’m with my family and they see me occupied dealing with my daughter or talking to my wife, they give me my space and I appreciate that. That’s the type of stuff that you look for when you want to come back to a place.”

Jefferson and his family — wife Holly and three-year-old daughter Kelley — are currently in Texas but plan to make Winnipeg their full-time home by late-February or March.

John Hodge is a CFL insider and draft analyst who has been covering the league since 2014.