The Canadian Football League’s statistics bureau had a reminder in their game notes package for Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans this week: It is always darkest before the dawn.
Well, at 2-12, the Bombers certainly got the dark part down. But dawn?
Believe it, says the league’s stats guru Steve Daniel, who points out this week that the Bombers franchise has a long history of turning hopeless seasons one year into winning ones the next.
--In 1964, the Bombers went 1-14-1, which remains to this day their worst ever season. And the following year? Well, in 1965, the Bombers went 11-5-1 and made it all the way to the Grey Cup game.
--In 1979, the Bombers went 4-12. In 1980, they went 10-6.
--In 1989, the Bombers finished 7-11. The following year, they went 12-6 and won the Grey Cup -- the last time this team won the CFL championship.
--More recently, there was the turnaround from a 7-10-1 season in 2000 to a 14-4 season in 2001, in which the Bombers once again went to the Grey Cup game.
So yeah, in other words, things look very bleak right now as the Bombers drag their sorry 2-12 butts to Montreal for a Thanksgiving Day game on Monday afternoon. And it’s been particularly hard to take for Bombers fans because this season’s troubles come after a similarly poor season in 2012 in which the team was marginally better at 6-12, but not by a whole bunch.
But even this kind of extended Bombers slump is not without a precedent of a similarly quick turnaround. And it happened most recently.
The Bombers appearance in the 2011 Grey Cup came after a two-year playoff drought that looked a lot like the one the team is presently mired in. After missing the playoffs in 2009 with a 7-11 record, the Bombers got even worse in 2010 when they finished just 4-14.
Does that pattern sound familiar? A few of the Bombers players still remaining from those 2009-10 teams say it sounds familiar because it is familiar -- and that a turnaround in 2014 could come just as quickly, as unlikely as that might seem right now.
"It could happen again. For sure, it could happen," slotback Terrence Edwards said Saturday afternoon at Investors Group Field following his team’s final full practice in advance of the Montreal game.
"I don’t think there was any special formula to how we did it in 2010 and 2011. We had some great players in 2010 and we basically took what we’d built, kept mostly the same team and we had a great run in 2011."
One key difference, alas, was that the 2010 team was consistently close, winning just four games but losing nine others by four points or less. This Bombers team, in stark contrast, has steadily gotten blown out all season long -- and the margins have been widening, with losses by 27 and 36 points in the last two weeks.
Still, Edwards and defensive back Jovon Johnson, who was also along for the last ride, argue that the key to the success of the 2011 team was that it included most of the core of that 2010 team. And both men counsel management of this Bombers team to resist the temptation this coming off-season to dismantle this entire team and start all over again.
"It’s going to take keeping a lot of the same guys around -- to allow them to build chemistry and play together for longer than one year if you want to turn this around quickly," said Johnson. "This is still a very young team. And if you’re constantly bringing new guys in and swapping guys out, it’s tough to win like that. You just go around in circles rebuilding.
"You’ve got to build with the guys you have. If you’re constantly overhauling, bringing in guys who don’t know the CFL game, it’s tough to be successful."
Edwards offered a similar observation. "We don’t need to get rid of everybody this winter. We just need to add some veterans in some key positions, whether it’s through trades or free agency or whatever.
"It’s not my call, but I really think we need more veterans in this locker-room to show the younger guys the ropes and how to handle certain situations. To be honest, I really think we have a lot of talent in this locker room. But it’s been the mental part of the game that’s been the problem, just because these young players haven’t seen a lot of the situations that arise.
"A lot of the guys were learning on the fly this season -- offence, defence and special teams. And I think that’s been our Achilles heel all year."