Can Bombers build on opening night success story in the stands?
By Bill Hunt
General manager Larry Wisniewski's review of the return of the UNB-Fredericton Red Bombers after a 29-year absence:
Of course there was more - Wisniewski, being Wisniewski and all.
"I was really pleased," he said. "I was pleased because of Pat Gillin, who I thought deserved the recognition that his ideas and his enthusiasm for UNB required us to give back to him. When I saw his wife and sister and son there, that was probably the best time of the night for me. I wanted Pat's dream to be at least out there where he could see it."
Gillin, who passed away in July at the age of 84, graduated from UNB in 1949 and founded Gillin Engineering and Construction in 1950.
At his memorial service in his native Ottawa in July, son Jeff - who was among the 2,300 or so fans on hand at Chapman Field last Saturday night - said his dad once advised him to "always bite off a little more than you think you can chew."
"He was a guy who got things done," said Dean Karakasis, the executive director of the Ottawa chapter of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Canada.
They're not done by any means, but it was certainly an eye-opening start. If the crowd estimate of 2,300 was accurate - and the extra bleachers brought in for the occasion were full, the south side hill where there were no bleachers was crowded, and they were stacked three deep on the Aitken Centre concourse at the intermission - then it should be noted that there were more fans outside than inside. The announced crowd at the hockey game: 1,943. And there weren't that many there.
Wisniewski admits that, for all the hard work that went into making Opening Night happen, the crowd exceeded his expectations.
"I knew it had the potential," he said. "And I know Dolly (head coach Mike Dollimore) always thought that if the ingredients were brought together, the flash point would be reached and the thing would ignite. And I think he was right. I'm not a person who believes all this is handled, managed or produced. Sometimes it's just chemistry."
Wisniewski likened the atmosphere around the game to the feeling in the rink when UNB hosted the CIS national hockey championships in 2003. He recalled a conversation he had with then athletic director Clint Hamilton.
"I was saying how great it was to be in the rink because it was just hopping," he remembered. "It was everywhere. It was in the corridors, it was in the stands, it was before the game started ... it was just a buzz. And I said to Clint 'This was just phenomenal.'
"And he said 'This is what universities need. And I think football could be like this at UNB.' He was one who really believed that football was one of the things he would have liked to get done at UNB."
Hamilton, of course, left UNB for the AD/director of campus recreation post at the University of Victoria in 2004 and is also the president of Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
The Vikes, curiously, don't field a football or a hockey team.
Wisniewski chuckled at a question that was, admittedly, loaded: Would UNB have a football team if Hamilton were still here?
"Anything Clint set his mind to do, he could get it done," said Wisniewski. "He was really exceptional at organization and strategy and management. It was one of the great gifts he had as an executive."
And no, that's not any indictment of Kevin Dickie, the current AD and the man who will someday soon, have to field the football question again. It's a different time, a different economic climate, a different reality now. Remember, Jim Born, who succeeded Malcolm Early as athletic director; Hamilton, or John Richard, who, to be fair, did the job on an interim basis, restored football either.
And, first glow of success aside, it's not going to happen for a while yet, if at all.
But you had to at least look out the window last Saturday night and see some potential.
Wisniewski is pretty sure the administration noticed. The new president, Dr. Eddy Campbell, performed the opening kickoff, after all.
"I think Phil Wright said it best," said Wisniewski. "He said 'I got there a little bit late, and there was a lineup ... I knew something was going on. I walked in, and it just looked right. It looked phenomenal.' He said for the first time, Chapman Field looked the way he always imagined it could look."
Now that the novelty is over, and the whole aura of "The first game in 30 years" is now just the first game in a couple of weeks, the question will be: Can they do it again?
Well, the finish - a field goal by John Phillips in the final minute to give the UNBSJ SeaWolves a 16-14 win - should be enough to pique the curious.
But Wisniewski says the Bomber braintrust has to "reinvent the thing and come up with another way of making another event happen. The big mistake is to think that all you have to do is replicate what you did and it will happen again. It doesn't. It's like a great party, a memorable holiday. It's one of those things that's always different, but can be done if people put enough work, energy and imagination into it."
Competition that night will be tough - and not just from the Moncton Raiders, the third team in the three-team circuit. As the Bombers take the field at Chapman Field at 7 p.m. Oct. 16, the V-Reds hockey team will be raising their Canadian Interuniversity Sport championship banner and showing off the Cavendish University Cup.
Scheduling suicide as only Fredericton can do it.
Bill Hunt can be reached at 458-6443 or email@example.com. His column appears each Friday.