So many things had to go right to make it a reality, so as Kyrie Wilson celebrated with his teammates 2,500 miles from his Bakersfield home, his emotions got the best of him.
Moments before, the former Ridgeview High and Fresno State linebacker intercepted a pass to clinch the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' second-straight Canadian Football League title, capping a thrilling 33-25 comeback victory in overtime over the host Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Tim Hortons Field.
“We were down two scores, but we just kept encouraging each other, ‘Just keep going, keep going,’” Wilson said. “Nobody on the sideline was panicking or anything. They still believed that we could still make it and that’s what happened. Just keep believing and trust that something is going to turn this around, so it’s amazing. Just keeping the faith and trusting everything’s going to work out.”
Trailing 22-10 with 12:03 left in the game, Winnipeg stormed back to force overtime, and then scored a touchdown and two-point conversion to set up Wilson’s heroics.
Facing a first-and-20 from near midfield, and needing to match the Blue Bombers' TD and conversion to stay alive, Hamilton quarterback Jeremiah Masoli’s pass was tipped by two Blue Bomber defenders before landing in the hands of Wilson to secure the victory.
“To be honest with you, it really was just like a reaction, because at first, it looked like one of my DBs got the interception, but then it came out of his hands and the next cornerback was trying to catch it,” said Wilson, who finished with five tackles in the game. “It looked like he lifted it up and kind of tipped to me and I just reacted to it. It was crazy how it all fell into place, but it was a good feeling. I kind of still feels unreal. I feel like, ‘Dang, did that really happen?’ All those different scenarios to win the game, it was a great feeling.”
Although not involved in the play, two other players with Bakersfield ties were on the field, former BC standout Brandon Banks and ex-Liberty star Stavros Katsantonis, who play for Hamilton. Banks, a wide receiver, had four catches for 32 yards and a touchdown, and added seven yards on two carries. Katsantonis had five tackles as a defensive back.
The play happened so fast, many in attendance didn’t even realize which player made the play. That included Winnipeg head coach Mike O’Shea and Wilson’s father, Dotwan, who was in the stands with Kyrie’s step-mother Andrea, sister Trinity and brother Treyvon.
“The crazy thing is, half the people didn’t even know because everybody was so excited,” Wilson said. “It was definitely a surprise, but I just wrapped it up like a little baby when I got it and I was like, ‘This ain’t getting out.’ I wrapped it up and rolled over so nobody would be able to knock it out.”
After working their way down to the field gate, Wilson's family joined him on the field for a celebration of their own.
“I just gave him a big ol' bearhug, and told him, ‘We did it, we said we were going to do it, we said we were coming here to do it and we did it,’” Dotwan said. “Oh man, it kind of brings tears to your eyes, when you see your kid that happy with a smile on his face. It had me all choked up, like, ‘wow.’”
Still clutching the football, Wilson presented his father with the game ball shortly thereafter, a gesture that his father will never forget.
“That was real special,” said Dotwan, who lives in Oakland. “It took a lot for us to get there, but it was great. It was worth it, and I know he enjoyed having us come and participate in the events and everything. I’m blessed with all my kids. Sometimes you look at things and say, ‘Man, I did something right.’”
Winning the Grey Cup was the culmination of a challenging personal stretch for Wilson.
After helping the Blue Bombers win the CFL title in 2019, the three-year veteran was a free agent. Although he was confident he’d play somewhere, the following year was filled with uncertainty after the season was canceled in 2020.
He finally signed a two-year deal to return to Winnipeg in January, but he suffered through an injured groin during training camp and missed the first half of the regular season.
“You just never know what’s going to happen next,” Wilson said. “You just have to stay ready. Even when I was injured there were times when you have doubts, but you just have to put it in God’s hands, and know you can’t control everything. You just have to have faith. You have to keep working at it, keep pushing forward no matter what you go through. And that’s the same thing on the field, too.”
Watching his son play, Dotwan couldn’t help but think about both of their journeys to get to that point.
“It was a great experience to travel that far, and just to go to an event like that when you have your son playing in it,” Dotwan said. “It was a dream come true because I’ve seen how hard he has worked, competing and endurance, working out … It was just good seeing how things paid off when you stick in there and stick to it.”
The key Wilson says is staying positive, something he’s tried to share with others through videos on his Facebook page and the creation of a website, healthimpactor.com, with the goal of encouraging others by sharing his life’s journey, with the hope of opening up a dialogue where others can share their stories.
“Sometimes when you’re not able to do certain things, your mind starts to wander or you start questioning whether you still want to do it, but we were all locked in,” said Wilson of the challenges he and his teammates faced — with injuries, COVID-19 protocols and the 12-point deficit in the title game. “It just shows that no matter what you go through, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Some stuff might be tough, but it’s all going to work out in the end.”