It didn’t take long for Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans to make their feelings known about the hometown running back who was wearing royal blue officially for the first time.
The Bombers first play from scrimmage in their first exhibition game of 2016 was a handoff to Andrew Harris and there was immediate electricity rippling through Investors Group Field as soon as he touched the ball.
The 29-year-old Winnipegger, who spent his first five CFL seasons with the B.C. Lions, took the rock and picked his way through the Montreal Alouettes line for a six-yard gain, with the Investors Group Field crowd voicing its approval.
“After that carry, I was definitely fired up,” Harris said.
It was another sign of just how much the free-agent signing of Harris in the off-season means to the Blue Bombers organization. Harris is more than just a running back, who can run and catch the ball and is a ratio-breaking Canadian at that.
He’s a face-of-the-franchise type, a recognizable figure who grew up in the community, still embraces it today and is a sure-fire fan favourite.
The faithful didn’t get much of a look at Harris, who played only the first quarter and finished with two carries for six yards and one catch for 16 yards.
But it was the part of the one passing play that didn’t count that gave fans – along with head coach Mike O’Shea and off-season, big-spending GM Kyle Walters — even more reason to be excited.
Harris took a short toss from Bombers starting quarterback Drew Willy and broke a few tackles before scampering all the way to the end zone for a would-be touchdown.
The electrified crowd was loving it, until of course they saw the flag. Slotback Ryan Smith was flagged for an illegal block after Harris had gained 16 yards and the touchdown was wiped out.
But, who really cares? It was an exhibition game anyway.
“After I broke that last tackle I just blacked out and it was a great feeling,” Harris said. “To make a big play and score a touchdown – obviously it was called back – but to see the fans get excited on opening night for a new realm as far as the personnel … it was an exciting day.”
What the Bombers want to see is that Harris can be the kind of gamebreaker they sorely need and he certainly showed that on the 40-yard pass and run play.
Bombers coach Mike O’Shea was certainly impressed, succinctly summing up Harris’s big play with “It was good … really good.”
Harris has rushed for 4,259 yards on 825 carries, caught 265 passes for 2,639 yards and scored 45 touchdowns during his career.
He’s been a difference-maker and he will get every opportunity be one all season long in Winnipeg this year.
Staying healthy is paramount, of course, but just imagine how popular Harris will be if the Bombers have a successful offence this season and finally make a return to the playoffs after a four-year absence.
By the end of Wednesday’s exhibition opener, the fans were singing as the Bombers used a big second half to cruise to a 36-13 win, with most of the projected starters on the sideline.
If Harris can be an offensive catalyst all year, that tune might become a more familiar refrain.
Author: TED WYMAN, WINNIPEG SUN