Nine years ago, Patrick Neufeld missed out on a chance to play at home in Regina for the Grey Cup.
Now, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers offensive lineman is back on the CFL’s biggest stage and savouring the chance to take the field in his hometown.
In 2013, Neufeld was playing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who were Grey Cup hosts. With just three weeks to go in the regular season, the Riders traded Neufeld to the Bombers, getting defensive end Alex Hall — who went on to play parts of two seasons with the team — in exchange.
The Riders went on to win the Grey Cup on their home turf that year.
“It was tough at the time, but it’s the reality of the business,” Neufeld said this week, in the leadup to his team’s game against the Toronto Argonauts at 109th Grey Cup on Sunday.
“I’m extremely happy and very proud to be a Winnipeg Blue Bomber.”
The 33-year-old has been a standout on the offensive line for Winnipeg, winning back-to-back Grey Cup rings, and was named a CFL all-star in 2021 and 2022.
Neufeld played high school football at Luther College in Regina, and then played for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
“It’s kind of come full circle. I started my football career in high school and I played games at the old Mosaic Stadium. To be able to come back here for Grey Cup week and to play in the game is pretty cool,” Neufeld told CBC Thursday.
“I’m trying not to let it affect me too much, thinking of all the nostalgia and stuff. But being able to reach out to friends and family here in town is great.”
Despite the trade in 2013, Neufeld’s parents held on to their Saskatchewan Roughriders season tickets. He said he will have family and friends in the crowd supporting him, but doesn’t think many other local fans will support the Bombers.
“I would expect Riders fans to cheer against us. It’s the best rivalry in the CFL and it wouldn’t be right if they were cheering for us.
“I know Bomber fans care a lot and they’re going to travel out in masses, so that’s going to be a big boost for us.”
Coach, teammate laud Neufeld’s play, leadership
Over the last two years, the CFL has honoured Neufeld for his on-field play, but his teammates and his coach say Neufeld’s off-field leadership is also all-star worthy.
“We know what Paddy is for us. We don’t need anybody else to tell us that he’s the best,” Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea told reporters Thursday.
“He is so solid with our team — how he handles himself, how he helps his teammates, what he means to them, his character,” O’Shea said.
“I’m very fortunate to have been around him for as long as I have.”
Bombers offensive tackle Stanley Bryant, the 2022 CFL most outstanding lineman, also had high praise for Neufeld.
“Paddy is a great guy, a great teammate — he’s like a brother to me,” Bryant said.
“I’m just happy for him to be here, [after] the unfortunate situation when he got traded back in 2013 and [the Riders] won the Grey Cup.
“It was good for him to have two Grey Cups already, but also get a chance this year to get his third here in his hometown.”
For Neufeld, the admiration is mutual.
“He’s more than just a teammate to me. He’s like a brother to me. We’ve been together since 2015. We travel together in the off-season. We spent a lot of time on film. We’re together outside of the building, we hang out a lot.”
On Wednesday, Neufeld called Bryant “the best lineman in the history of the CFL.”
“He’s the guy who I trust implicitly and someone who I know is going to be consistent in doing his job. So we’re really lucky to have him and I’m very appreciative of him.”
Neufeld is known not just for his play, but also for his bushy copper beard. While his head coach sports his own notable facial hair, Neufeld says O’Shea’s beard does not stack up.
“I think it’s pretty obvious it’s me [who has the better beard]. His is pretty white,” Neufeld said.
But O’Shea cast doubt on the legitimacy of Neufeld’s beard.
“Obviously, I don’t dye mine, and there’s a question about whether Paddy Neufeld dyes his. So if you can find out whether Paddy dyes his beard, then you’ll probably have a better idea of what that answer should be.”
With the Bombers going for a rare Grey Cup three-peat, Neufeld and O’Shea are both hoping their beards will be soaked in champagne on Sunday night.
Kickoff for the Grey Cup game is at 5 p.m. CT.