50TH VANIER CUP INTERVIEW SERIES: John Makie, Manitoba Bisons (2007)



A conversation with…

John Makie, quarterback, University of Manitoba Bisons

In Vanier Cup XLIII, the Manitoba Bisons put an end to a 37-year drought and captured the third national title in program history thanks to a 28-14 victory over the Saint Mary’s Huskies at Rogers Centre in Toronto. With the win, the Bisons completed the season with an unblemished 12-0 record and also ended a nine-year Vanier Cup dry spell for Canada West teams. John Makie was behind centre for Manitoba and received the Bruce Coulter Award as the game’s offensive MVP after he passed for 261 yards and one touchdown, while also scoring on a six-yard run.

What is your major memory of the entire Vanier Cup weekand the overall experience?

The best memory was the way our team was treated. We received first-class treatment everywhere we went in Toronto. From the Royal York Hotel stay to all of the buffets, it was a surreal feeling. We were used to changing out of a chicken coop at the old Butler Hut football facility on the University of Manitoba campus, and we played on a field without end zones. We were from the school of hard knocks and weren’t used to this treatment. A feeling of professionalism came over me and some of the guys. Coming into a fancy hotel with fancy dinners gave me the sense of, “Wow! This is how professionals are treated. This is how I need to act, this is awesome!”

What is your one major lasting memory of the actual game?

One lasting memory is when I took a knee to run out the clock. All of the pain from losing in the 2006 conference final was relieved. All of the weights that were lifted were consolidated. It was a feeling and a sense of accomplishment.

I had gotten my wrist slapped from some of our coaches for making a statement at the beginning of our 2007 season to Joe Pascucci from Global TV in Winnipeg. I said that I believed our team was on its way to winning the Vanier Cup. When I was confronted about this, I was not apologetic. I truly believed it, I woke up to that belief every morning, I felt it in my heart and the hearts of my teammates. We were hurting because something was taken away from us in 2006. There has never been a time in my life that I was more motivated to win. To accomplish a goal that was set by our entire team immediately following the 2006 Hardy Cup was something words can’t describe. Prior to 2007, after the many seasons that I had been playing the sport of football, I was never able to say, “I am a national champion”. And now, well, I still don’t need to say it, the ring speaks for itself.

(Note: The Bisons were 9-0 overall heading into the 2006 Canada West final, including a 35-16 win over Saskatchewan in the regular season, but lost 32-15 to the Huskies in the Hardy Cup)

What do you remember as the key play of the game?

The key play to the game, for all of us on the team, was when running back Matt Henry broke his leg. I remember running behind him on the play where he was injured and trying to pick him up after he was taken down. I didn’t see the hit initially, and as I was grabbing his shoulders to pick him up, our left tackle, Ryan Karhut, grabbed my shoulder and sharply said, “Makie, he’s done for the day!”

Being upset about the fact that we were not going to have Matt in the game, I was getting refocused on the sidelines with Coach Jeff Stead, who was facing the Jumbotron. I had my back turned to the screen and, as we were talking, I remember Coach looking up at the screen and then hearing the sound of 26,000 gags. I quickly turned to see what had happened but missed the hit again. I turned to Coach Stead, whose face had turned a shade of white, and I asked, “What happened?” He blankly stared at me, gulped and said, “Oh, he’s not coming back.”

In 2007, our team was made up of hard-working, blue-collar ball players. Each week, we put on our hard hats and grabbed our lunch pails and went to work. We were all from different parts of the country and played our fair share of football. We understood what it took to be a close team and who looked out for each other, as we were truly a family. Our entire team rallied around the fact we had lost one of our brothers and decided from that point on that we were winning the game for Matt. It took us a little while to get our offence back in full swing. I vividly remember one of our receiver coaches, Stu Heaton, slapping me on the butt after Mike Howard’ second interception saying, “Let’s get this thing going, the defence is doing their part, now let’s do ours, PUT IT IN THE END ZONE!” At that moment I remember thinking to my young self, with a surge of confidence, “Oh yeah, we are unstoppable and we’re going to win this game. Let’s score!” A couple of plays later, wide receiver Steve Gronick scored our first touchdown.

(Note: Gronick caught a 39-yard TD pass from Makie 6:04 into the second quarter to give the Bisons their first lead of the game, 13-7. Up 13-8 at the half, Manitoba scored the only 10 points of the third frame to take a commanding advantage into the fourth)

What was your personal greatest play or moment?

I will never forget when I took off and ran for a touchdown. I never ran with the football, in fact I had a belief that the ball was best carried by the real athletes on our team rather than myself. The memory will stick with me for as long as I live.

The play was called “14 hot BOB left FLIN/Bolt”. We were in a quad set, and I watched Jeff Strome and Karim Lowen run into each other and both falling down. I then quickly checked our short-side receiver, Randy Simmons, who was also my roommate, who was not expecting the ball on this play, and met his eyes. Randy was shocked that I was looking at him and immediately put up his hand with a defender stuck to him. The part I remember most, as time almost froze to think for this long, was when I sprinted as hard as I could outside of the pocket — which was not that fast. While briefly looking at the turf, it seemed as though all of my flashbacks of playing football with my dad and brother in the backyard in Regina came to me. That moment where you are about to score a touchdown in the championship game was felt instantly. I knew I was going to score and nobody was going to take that away from me. Getting closer to the goal line, I didn’t know if I was going to get caught from behind as I felt someone on my heels, so I dove for the dramatics at the pylon. When I hit the ground, I got up as fast as I could and without hesitation I looked for my roommate and our offensive line. At that moment, I knew we were winning the national championship.

(Note: Makie’s running major 4:41 into the third quarter gave Manitoba a 20-8 lead)

Did the coaches do anything different from normal routine in the preparation for the game?

No… other than telling us over and over again that they weren’t doing anything different for this game.

Did anything unusual or out of the ordinary happen during the game or during Vanier week?

Plenty of great memories were made during the week and during the game. I remember before the game we were a bit out of our element. We were about to play in front of a crowd like most of us hadn’t seen, in a stadium most of us hadn’t stepped foot in before that week. A lot of our anxiety attributes came out right before the game. Some of us got angry and frustrated, some of us were either really focused or scared, and some of us found things to be funnier than they actually were. It could have been a social experiment, but when we ran out onto the field it was business as usual.

How did you or the team react to the stadium and the crowd?

I didn’t bother asking anyone about the crowd. During warm-up, not that many people were there. This was something we were very used to, so it didn’t really faze me. But when I ran out onto the field as our team was announced, the sound wasn’t a normal 3,000 people screaming; it felt like a rumbling thunderstorm. I felt the crowd noise in my feet to my stomach. I didn’t even bother looking at the crowd, or try to look for my parents during Oh Canada, which was tradition — my mom always waved at me when our eyes met. It was an awesome experience to play in front of a crowd that size.

(Note: The crowd of 26,787 ranks as the eighth largest in Vanier Cup history. The 2007 Vanier Cup was played at Rogers Centre on the same weekend as the Grey Cup, which featured another team from Winnipeg, the Blue Bombers, against the Saskatchewan Roughriders)

What are your memories of the post-game celebrations on the field and/or in the dressing room?

After the post-game interviews, I remember running back to the locker room late to the party. The officiating crew was crowded around the door. I spoke to them about the game and I had to apologize to one of the officials for giving him a hard time on a call that was, in my eyes, missed. They were very human at that moment and I didn’t realize that this was their moment as well. They had asked me if I could bring the Vanier Cup out of the locker room and pose for a picture with the trophy. I questioned their call once again: “You guys want me to go into our locker room and pull out the trophy from our boys who are feasting on this beauty of a thing? That might cost you guys something.” We made an exchange, the details of which I will keep to myself as certain beverages were not allowed in the locker rooms after the game. Let’s just say it was a mutually beneficial agreement! I took some pictures for the officiating crew and then it was off to the party in the locker room.

What are your memories of the trip back home?

On the flight home, I sat beside my good friend, centre Kurtis Stolth. We are not allowed to have any beverages on the plane. We abided by these rules all season long, but because of the situation and the persuasion of our shortest offensive lineman, we felt the need to have a couple of beers while discussing the highlights of the game on the plane. When we landed, we were astonished by the mass of Bison supporters cheering us as we came down the escalators to our luggage pick-up. It was a great feeling carrying the Vanier Cup for all to see.

What was the reaction on campus when the team returned?

When I arrived on campus the following Monday, I got out of my car to pay for parking. I was met by a guy I had never met and he said, “You play quarterback for the Bisons right? Great game on Saturday!” I kind of felt like a celebrity at that particular moment.

The athletics department did a great job in recognizing the football team. There was a lot of pride coming from the student body and staff. There was a banner hung in the University Centre for a long time for all students to see our accomplishment. The part I remember most was the return of Matt Henry. He was welcomed back by a large number of supporters and students along with our entire team, and for the first time he was able to hoist our prized Vanier Cup trophy.

At the time, how did winning the Vanier Cup change your everyday life?

Our team was given honours from the City of Winnipeg and awarded Manitoba’s Order of the Buffalo Hunt, which is one of the highest honours the province bestows on individuals who demonstrated outstanding skills in the areas of leadership, service and community commitment. I had the honour of travelling with Manitoba Premier Gary Doer to the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border to assist him in hoisting the sign that noted the Riders Grey Cup victory over the Blue Bombers. Mr. Doer had a friendly bet with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall. Although our Manitoba Premier was wearing a Rider jersey, he had his national champions behind him. It was an incredible experience to have been part of. I had many opportunities to meet new people and experience so many things that I never would have been able to if it were not for the Vanier victory.

How often to you reminisce about your Vanier Cup win?

More often than I probably should, but it was a major accomplishment in my life. If there is any time in my life where I need to feel like a champion, I will wear my Vanier Cup ring as a reminder of that accomplishment. Any time I get to see some of the guys from the 2007 team or any of our alumni, we chat briefly about how our life is going and it doesn’t take long before we start reminiscing about the glory days. And it is very true that the older we get, the better we were. I thoroughly enjoy chatting with our coaches about the whole process from their perspective and the fact that we weren’t the most skilled team that they’d ever coached, we were just the ones that got the job done.

What did you study at Manitoba and what career paths did you follow after graduation?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in History. I have been working in the non-profit sector for five years. I am currently working with the

Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada, Manitoba Division as the New Business Development Coordinator.

I enjoy volunteering my time coaching with the Bison football program as the quarterback coach and giving back to the sport and school that have given me so much. I still feel as proud as ever, standing on the sideline next to our Bison players and my fellow coaches, some of the smartest men I have ever met in the sport. I have made a home and grown deep roots in the province of Manitoba. I have been blessed with a loving and supportive partner and our beautiful baby boy, John Beau Makie IV.

Scott Harrigan
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