Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Clad in blue and feeling bluer

Not much black in stands as fans focus on rematch

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The Banjo Bowl wasn't the Black Sunday that some Winnipeg Blue Bomber fans were expecting.

A sea of fans in blue and green jerseys, blue and gold hair pieces and watermelon helmets of all kinds roared for the Prairie rivals who fought an even battle until the bitter end: 25-24 for Saskatchewan.

It wasn't as good as a win, but it was almost a happy ending for Bomber fan Joel Blair who was at the 52-0 drubbing at the Labour Day Classic in Regina last week.

"It was a lot better," said Blair. This time, Winnipeg at least came close to beating the Roughriders, said the Brandon-born man from Esterhazy, Sask. "It was a lot more positive," said Blair, who had Bomber tattoos on his face. His wife wore a green sparkly wig and Roughriders jersey.

"It was way better because we had to fight to win," said Jen Blair, who nearly screamed herself hoarse for Saskatchewan. "It's way better than a blowout," she said of Sunday's game. "Each team showed what they're worth, and kudos to the Blue Bombers -- we almost got our butt kicked."

Bomber fans calling for the termination of the team's general manager should take a look at Saskatchewan, she said. "We had a five-game losing streak and no one was calling for our coach or GM to get fired," she said. The Roughriders turned it around and Winnipeg can too, she said. "The Bombers really came together today."

It was not enough for some, including Nick Bielak, who was clad in black in the smoking area on the west side of the stadium.

"I'm in mourning," he said after the game that Saskatchewan won with a field goal on the last play of the game. "I'm disappointed," said the 23-year-old, whose new Bomber fan slogan is "it could've been worse."

"How much more can we take?"

Ask not what your team can do for you, but what you can do for your team, said Rick Erdmann, who was buying a long-sleeved Bomber shirt after the game.

"They lost and they need more support," said the season-ticket holder. "I'm not going to give up."

"At least they fought harder this time," said his wife Ramona Erdmann. They're planning on getting season tickets again next year, they said.

So is Lanny Navitka, but he wasn't buying any new Bomber gear after Sunday's loss.

"It's the same old, same old," he said of the nail-biter that ended with the Bombers making questionable decisions and then losing. "They've got to tighten up on defence."

Still, he and fellow season-ticket holder Joel Girouard said they support the team and refused to wear black on Sunday.

"We're true Blue fans," said Girouard.

Uberfan Mike Stratychuk's call for Bomber fans to wear black if they want to "Sack Joe Mack" was answered by a smattering of people at the game. A "Fire Joe Mack" petition on a Facebook page garnered thousands of likes.

Mack, the team's general manager, fired then-head coach Paul LaPolice last month just as the failing team seemed to be improving.

"He should've been the one fired," said man-in-black Keith Bazin, 36. Before the game, he said he wished more had worn black to express dissatisfaction with Mack.

"He's got a horrendous record."

Navitka said he wants to know what fans such as Stratychuk would do to solve the team's problems.

"What's his solution? I'm not disagreeing with him but what's the solution? Won't (firing Mack) make more turmoil?"

None of that mattered to Matthew Kehler, 26, sporting a blue Smurf coiffure, blue tights and Bomber boxer shorts.

"It's the players on the field who make the difference," he said.

"I'm here for the Bombers."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 10, 2012 A4

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