Winnipeg Blue Bombers excited to meet former teammate Andrew Harris in 109th Grey Cup

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The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will meet a familiar face in the 109th Grey Cup as they take on Andrew Harris and the Toronto Argonauts.

“It’s going to be cool. Andrew and I still talk quite often. Him and I talked this week, he just had a baby, so congrats to Andrew. We talked about that as well but it’s going to be cool to see him,” running back Brady Oliveira told the media on Sunday.

“He taught me so much during my time here and his time here playing for the Bombers. He’s arguably one of the best running backs to play in this league and for sure one of the best Canadian running backs ever to play in the CFL.”

Oliveira was the first running back to sign back with the Blue Bombers this past off-season, which was the first indication that Andrew Harris might not be back with the team. He got off to a slow start in his first full season as Winnipeg’s starter but eventually found his rhythm, finishing the year with 1,001 yards along the ground. He was sensational in the team’s 28-20 victory over the B.C. Lions in the West Final, rushing for a career-high single-game total of 130 yards on 20 carries.

Oliveira and Harris were both born in Winnipeg and attended Oak Park High School, albeit a decade apart. They played together during the 2019 and 2021 seasons with the Blue Bombers during which Oliveira tried his best to learn from the future Hall of Fame inductee.

“He taught me a lot. I was critically watching him to see if I could pick out certain things out of his game and apply it to my game. He was a huge part into my career and getting me to where I am today. It’s going to be cool playing against him next week and I’m sure I’ll see him throughout the week. He’s still a good friend of mine and it’s going to be fun battling him next week,” said Oliveira.

The clubs met only once during the regular season, a game Winnipeg won 23-22 on July 4. Harris ran 22 times for 111 yards and made one catch for 13 yards in the loss, while the Blue Bombers generated only 61 yards along the ground. The contest would likely have gone to overtime had Boris Bede not missed a potential game-tying convert with 25 seconds remaining in regulation.

Harris suffered a torn pectoral muscle in August and underwent surgery that was considered season-ending at the time. He completed rehabilitation ahead of schedule and returned for the East Final on Sunday to help lead his team to a 34-27 win over the Montreal Alouettes. He rushed nine times for 42 yards and a touchdown and made one reception for 30 yards in the victory.

“I’ve competed against Andrew a handful of times already in my career and that’s going to be pretty awesome, lining up against him in a Grey Cup,” said veteran linebacker Adam Bighill. “I know he’s an ultimate competitor, I know what he’s had to go through to get back on the field and be out there. Hats off to him on the grind and everything like that, so it’s going to be fun. These moments are always fun. You want to play against the best, you want to have those moments and this is surely going to be one of them.”

Head coach Mike O’Shea is pleased the team is facing Harris next week, knowing that the matchup will draw extra attention to the game. The native of North Bay, Ont. played 12 seasons at linebacker with the Argos and served as an assistant coach with the team for four years before being hired in Winnipeg. He knows how badly Toronto needs the extra publicity heading into its first Grey Cup appearance since 2017.

“I think it’s good for the league. It’s probably going to dominate a lot of the stories, right? Anything that can draw interest to our league and especially with that franchise is positive,” he said.

Nic Demski, another Winnipeg native and Oak Park graduate, purposely didn’t watch the East Final on Sunday but wasn’t surprised to hear that Harris scored a touchdown to help the Argos advance to the Grey Cup. He has remained in close contact with his Harris since he departed for Toronto as a free agent in February.

“The trash-talking began right at that moment. Him and I are really tight, even when he did sign in Toronto, I still talked with him probably on a weekly basis. I’m sure he’s going to be fired up, I’m sure he’s going to have some vengeance on his shoulders and I wouldn’t expect anything less,” said Demski.

When asked what he expects to see from Harris next week in Regina, O’Shea didn’t mince words.

“The best,” he said. “Always.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.