The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are ready to take on the B.C. Lions in Saturday’s Western Final, but head coach Mike O’Shea isn’t happy with the way the league has scheduled the playoff matchup.
“To be perfectly honest, if I had my say, we probably wouldn’t be playing on Remembrance Day,” O’Shea told reporters on Friday. “But I don’t make the schedule so I’ll do my part tomorrow morning, for sure.”
Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the signing of the armistice which ended the First World War on November 11, 1918, is observed throughout the British Commonwealth as a day of solemn reflection honouring members of the armed forces who have been killed in war. However, the CFL’s shift to Saturday playoff games this year has placed two of the biggest contests on the national holiday.
The CFL has not avoided playing games on Remembrance Day in the past either, with the last overlap occurring in 2018. O’Shea led the Blue Bombers to victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Western Semi-Final on that occasion but remains uneasy about the misuse of the holiday.
Opposing head coach Rick Campbell did not share O’Shea’s strong feelings about the league’s scheduling, but acknowledged that the day was a meaningful one.
“I got even more respect for it when I was in Ottawa for six years. You’re in the nation’s capital and I remember practicing there with literally the fighter jets going over top at 11 o’clock,” he recalled.
“I got a much greater appreciation of it going to the War Memorial and just being in the capital of the country because that’s where all that stuff happens. It’s definitely impactful.”
O’Shea, who was wearing his poppy and a Royal Canadian Air Force hat at the podium, has a deep connection to the military. His father flew bombers with the Royal Air Force in World War Two before immigrating to Canada, while his grandfather was an infantry soldier in the First World War. He declined to comment as to how he would observe the moment of silence at 11 a.m., stating simply that it was ‘personal.’
Despite the military connotation, the Blue Bombers earned their name as a reference to famed boxer Joe Louis. However, the moniker earned greater legitimacy after the creation of the British Commonwealth Air Training Command Centre in Winnipeg during World War Two.
One of the franchise’s first stars, Jeff Nicklin, who helped the team capture Grey Cup victories in 1935 and 1939, was killed in action as a paratrooper on March 24, 1945. A trophy named in his honour is given to the West Division’s Most Outstanding Player, an award that has been held by Bombers in each of the past three seasons.
The current Winnipeg squad contains one active combat veteran, American fullback Damian Jackson, who served two deployments as a U.S. Navy SEAL.
The Bombers (14-4) are scheduled to kick off against the Lions (12-6) at 6:30 p.m. EST.