|Fredericton-UNB Red Bombers Dylan Sullivan, left, grabs the uniform top to haul down UNBSJ Seawolves' Tim Jackson during Saturday's inaugural game in the Atlantic Football League at Chapman Field. Sullivan was flagged 10-yards for this tackle. Some 2,300 fans make their way to Chapman Field to witness the first Red Bombers' game at UNB since the program was scrapped by the school 30 years ago. Bombers' head coach Mike Dollimore termed the evening 'electrifying.'|
Bombers' football returning to UNB big hit on opening night
By Dave Ritchie
Legendary sports writer Grantland Rice is said to have written in a poem entitled Alumnus Football: it doesn't matter if you win or lose, but how you play the game.
The fact they even played a game might be more apropos for an Alumnus of football at the University of New Brunswick.
It had been 30 years since a team calling itself the Red Bombers took to the gridiron at UNB. But it happened Saturday night, and while it wasn't exactly a storybook ending for the home team garbed in black and red, for once, it really didn't matter.
"Don't get me wrong, as a coach, I'm devastated that we lost the game, especially in the last minute, but the word I kept hearing over and over again was 'electrifying,'' said Mike Dollimore, who played for the Bombers in the early 70's and coached the offensive line for eight years before they turned the lights out for good. "The players just kept saying how awesome the crowd was. Guys were telling me it was the most awesome feeling they've ever had playing football.''
Dollimore is the on-field leader of the new Red Bombers, a collection of 18-24 year-olds playing under the 'club' designation at UNB in the three-team Atlantic Football League. The opponent for the inaugural game were the Seawolves out of UNB campus based in Saint John. The Bombers spotted UNBSJ a 13-8 edge, came back to take the lead 14-13 with about seven minutes left, and then could only watch as John Phillips kicked a 29-yard field goal with 24 seconds left to give the Wolves a 16-14 victory.
Depending on whom you talked with, there were anywhere from 1,500 to 2,300 fans gathered at Chapman Field on this night. People were huddled on both sides, some no doubt with their wine skins close by. There were older folks perhaps with a bit of nostalgia about the days when they were a lot younger watching university football on a Saturday at College Field those many years ago.
There were men and women perhaps in their 20's who wouldn't have experienced a Red Bombers' game back then but were wondering what all the fuss was about.
The newly installed president of the university, Eddy Campbell, was there, and gave the ceremonial kickoff the good ol' college try. There were, according to Dollimore, as many as 40 to 50 guys who wore the Red Bombers' jersey at one time or another. They were honoured before the game, and got together to celebrate in the aftermath.
Among them was Tony Proudfoot, a graduate of 1970 who would end up starring in the Canadian Football League with the Montreal Alouettes. Tony, who is suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease, was in the Maritime region with a buddy and he and his brother, Chuck, also a former Red Bomber, wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
And perhaps most important of all, there were kids everywhere. Many of them were wearing high school jackets with football written across the back. Others were wearing bomber jackets adorned by the block letters UNB or STU. And still others who play in the Capital Minor Football Association and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
Some of those kids could be seen at the far end tossing footballs around, perhaps wondering if they'll get their day in the sun or under the lights at Chapman Field.
"You've got so many kids playing the sport now,'' said Mike Washburn, who wore Red Bombers colours for three seasons including the final one in 1980. He would later play in the CFL. "When we played, there were six or seven high school teams. Now there's 25 or so playing at different levels. Just in our area, you've got the three teams (FHS, Leo Hayes, Oromocto). That's unbelievable growth. Fredericton was never a football town before. But look at how many kids are playing it now.''
Washburn said because of a previous commitment, he could only stay for the first half. But he wanted to be there because of what it represented. "Guys like Dolly, Mike (DeMello), Larrry (Wisniewski), they've got the kids interests at heart. They've done a great job to get this going and bring it back. I think about my days playing football and what it meant for me to be a part of that. It's all about the total university experience. Football has a way of setting the tone for your other sports.''
Like Washburn, Dollimore has been part of an alumni group that's been trying to get football back into UNB for years. When it wasn't going to happen for any number of reasons, he focused on developing minor football in the city, and later was part of the group headed by Donny Davis that got football into the high schools. The sport has mushroomed ever since.
"You know, of the 90 kids that were on the field for the two teams the other night, I'd say about 95 percent of them were homegrown products, developed right here in New Brunswick,'' said Dollimore. "Same thing with the coaches. These guys are all local. I mean, there's something special about being able to say that. It shows how far the sport has developed in this region.''
Dollimore says the "local'' component is what makes a club team operation viable. "It's all relative,'' he says. "You get kids who want to play CIS football. And they can do that. Some kids might not be ready, so they play here for a couple of years and then move on. Or you might have kids who go away for a year or two, find out that CIS football isn't what they want, and might want to come back here and still play a pretty good brand of football. It's a win-win for everybody.''
Dollimore called Saturday night a "history-making occasion. There was such a buzz. It was thrilling to be a part of it. And the fact it was at night, and the lights framed what was happening on the field, that just added to the electric atmosphere. There was so much stuff going on in the crowd, at the concessions, etc. I wish the game had ended 26 seconds earlier (with a win). But it's something to build on for sure.''
David Ritchie can be contacted at email@example.com or at 458-6484. He's on vacation for two weeks. This weekly feature returns Oct. 21.