This is going to hurt, Winnipeg Blue Bomber fans. It's going to hurt like a root canal, an anvil dropping on a foot and a spinal tap combined.
But after watching the Saskatchewan Roughriders exit the annual Labour Day Classic with their 10th straight win Sunday afternoon in Regina, it's certainly worth tossing this out for discussion:
Yes, as much as it might be painful to admit, the Bombers could learn a lot from the blueprint being used by their arch-rivals to the west.
They could learn about the importance of front-office continuity, of not wasting draft picks and also going all in and targeting some prized Canadian talent in free agency with big piles of $$.
Now, before you go drawing horns and a goatee on the mug shot that accompanies this piece, hear us out, please...
'We're not satisfied. We don't want to just hang with them. We want to beat them. No one is happy in here'
While walking through the Bomber locker-room following Sunday's 35-30 loss it became instantly clear there was no sense of a silver-lining accomplishment in hanging with the Riders for the second time in a month. After all, Winnipeg has now stood toe to toe with the champs in the middle of the ring and exchanged shots for eight quarters now, but has diddly-poo to show for it.
"It's not good. We're not happy," said linebacker Ian Wild. "We're not satisfied. We don't want to just hang with them. We want to beat them. No one is happy in here."
Added linebacker E.J. Kuale: "They're not the champs this year. In football, you leave the past in the past. It's 2014. We have to eliminate our mistakes. We need to spend extra time in the film room. We need to stay after hours and work on some things.
"It's crunch time now."
All true, especially with six of the Bombers' final eight games coming against West Division foes.
Still, Sunday's loss wasn't the 52-0 humiliation of 2012. And it wasn't the close-their-eyes-and-pray effort by a 1-7 Bomber side in a 48-25 loss last season.
It was a slugfest, nothing else. And while it provided its share of blunders and strange decisions, it was at least entertaining.
It also said this: The Bombers are closing the gap on the champs.
Granted, the Bomber roster still very much has a rag-tag/work-in-progress feel to it -- led by a first-year head coach and first-year starting QB -- while the Riders put the finishing touches on their sixth straight win this season with a veteran pivot working behind a dominant O-line (featuring two ex-Bombers, no less) that drove the club 75 yards in the final moments.
The Riders haven't been without their share of soap operas since 2004 -- the last time the Bombers won a Labour Day Classic -- but, by CFL terms at least, they have been the picture of relative stability. Five different coaches have been on the sidelines during that stretch -- Chamblin, Ken Miller, Kent Austin, Greg Marshall and Danny Barrett -- and in those seasons they've made the playoffs eight times and have four Grey Cup appearances, winning twice.
Over that same stretch the Bombers have had six different head coaches -- Jim Daley, Doug Berry, Mike Kelly, Paul LaPolice, Tim Burke and Mike O'Shea -- and just four playoff appearances with the two Grey Cup losses in 2007 and 2011. But that also just scratches the surface of the front-office dysfunction that has pockmarked the team the last few seasons.
But now there's a sense -- not just in Winnipeg, but across the Canadian Football League -- all that might be changing. In fact, twice on the weekend Riders head coach Corey Chamblin went out of his way -- unprompted -- to say as much.
"Kyle (GM Walters) and (head coach) Mike (O'Shea)," said Chamblin after Sunday's win, "they've done a helluva job over there getting that team ready to play."
And if you know anything of this rivalry, that's a little like Yankees manager Joe Girardi giving a shout-out to John Farrell of the Red Sox.
All of this, of course, is simply more fodder for water-cooler/bar-stool discussion in the wake of another Labour Day Classic loss. What's worse, the Bombers have now lost three of their last four and are dangerously close to falling back in the West Division race for playoff spots.
But progress isn't always represented by an upward arrow. Sometimes, as on Sunday in Regina, there are some sharp, downward spikes.
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Riders vs. Bombers
A look at Saskatchewan's and Winnipeg's records since 2004, the last time the Bombers won at the Labour Day Classic:
|2005||Sask||9-9 (lost East SF*)||Wpg||5-13 (missed playoffs)|
|2006||Sask||9-9 (lost West Final)||Wpg||9-9 (lost East SF)|
|2007||Sask||12-6 (won Grey Cup)||Wpg||10-7-1 (lost Grey Cup)|
|2008||Sask||12-6 (lost West SF)||Wpg||Wpg8-10 (lost East SF)|
|2009||Sask||10-7-1 (lost Grey Cup)||Wpg||7-11 (missed playoffs)|
|2010||Sask||10-8 (lost Grey Cup)||Wpg||4-14 (missed playoffs)|
|2011||Sask||5-13 (missed playoffs)||Wpg||10-8 (lost Grey Cup)|
|2012||Sask||8-10 (lost West SF)||Wpg||6-12 (missed playoffs)|
|2013||Sask||11-7 (won Grey Cup)||Wpg||3-15 (missed playoffs)|
|2014||Sask||7-2 (to be determined)||Wpg||6-4 (to be determined)|
Overall: Sask: 93-77-1; 4 Grey Cup appearances; 2 Grey Cup wins
Wpg: 68-103-1; 2 Grey Cup appearances; 0 Grey Cup wins