Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

At least stadium rocks

It's the best football facility in the country; can we get a team to match?

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It's a lot more fashion than function in Bomberland right now. Everything looks good, but nothing works just right.

It was evident both on and off the field that the Blue Bombers are a work in progress as an organization.

From monumental parking and transportation issues, that if not solved will strangle this franchise both logistically and financially, to a roster that still resembles a sub-.500 group, it is evident the Bombers have some tweaking to do.

Maybe we will be able to chalk it all up to first-time jitters by the time the first regular-season game is put in the books. But if things remain as they are, the Bombers will be the same in their new stadium as they were in their old: a dysfunctional franchise.

This was just the first exhibition game of the season, and mistakes and problems were to be expected. But it's also very apparent the hard work with both the stadium and the football team is far from over.

Even though the Argos left 16 starters off the field while the Bombers dressed most of theirs, the visitors were much stronger. They executed on offence and held sway on defence. Toronto was every bit the better team.

Bombers coach Tim Burke will now have to make some quick decisions. The time for evaluating is mostly over. He'll need to get his team ready for regular-season action with the season opener just one more friendly and two weeks away.

Starting quarterback Buck Pierce looked rusty and ineffective. He's going to need reps in practice and game action to come around. No more kiddie quarterback camp.

The Bombers defence was porous and Burke's carping about his secondary appears to be well deserved. Can they be ready by Game 1? Maybe. But they have work to do.

The facility is beautiful. No one can argue that. When Toronto Argonauts CEO Chris Rudge looks you in the eye and says, "I'd kill to have this in Toronto," there's clearly lots to like about the building.

And before anyone piles on Bombers CEO Garth Buchko, the parking- and stadium-flow issues were not of his making. He inherited this location.

But it will be up to Buchko to solve these problems. His moment to rise and shine has come.

By summer's end, Buchko will either have a province eating out of his hand or clamouring for his head.

Buchko can't do it alone, but he's entered a ring where the results will all hang on him. Fair? Doesn't matter. This is big-boy pants territory and public opinion will focus on him. Get people to their seats for the start of the game, no ifs ands or buts.

There were a few positive signs in the game. The Bombers did little to get the crowd involved until the third quarter when Jameze Massey ripped off a 91-yard-punt return and we got our first listen of the stadium.

The 30,000 or so in the house let loose and the news was good.

The old joint could rock and so can the new. It was deep with lots of bass and volume. Classic rock on the Prairie. Very promising for those summer nights with points on the line and fall days with titles to pursue. In Winnipeg, the 13th man has long been a factor. It will remain so.

The bones are here for better days. The province's football fans have bought in and given the stadium and team the financial blood it needs to operate. The stadium has all the appointments of a modern day facility and it has style to boot.

Maybe there will be nicer parks in the coming years, but right now Winnipeg's building is hands down the most handsome football facility in the country. That's something to feel good about.

Now the organization must do its part and turn an early mess into long-term success. Buchko must lead. He's in the spotlight and under fire as much as any coach or player with the Bombers. He'll either be able to solve the early issues or he won't.

Same goes for Burke and his boss GM Joe Mack. They have their work cut out for them. The mid-season marketing campaign can't be, "Great stadium, crap team."

The football team should and must reflect its surroundings. It needs to be better.

The province, the CFL and the country is watching. It's your ball Bombers. And this time, punting just won't do. Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2013 D3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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