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New-stadium smell

Players vow to not leave a bad odour this season

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Workers and the Bombers made last-minute preparations at Investors Group Field Tuesday morning for opening night tonight.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Workers and the Bombers made last-minute preparations at Investors Group Field Tuesday morning for opening night tonight. Photo Store

Remember the day the new couch got delivered, looking and smelling all perfect with not so much as a single butt crease anywhere to be seen?

Well, tonight at Investors Group Field is the night the plastic comes off and the dogs finally get let back into the house. And we already know the first place the dogs are going, don't we?

The dogs are jumping on the couch, of course, and that beautiful pristine piece of furniture is never again going to be quite as beautiful or pristine.

So the question tonight isn't whether the dogs are going to sleep on the couch when you're not looking -- you can take that to the bank. The question is are they going to soil it, too?

Are the 2013 Winnipeg Blue Bombers, in other words, going to respect and pay appropriate honour to their new $200-million home? Or are they going to mark it all up and foul it before the leather smell is even gone?

They're promising to be on their best behaviour.

"We can't scum up the place right away," says Winnipeg Blue Bombers centre Justin Sorensen. "We need to get off to a good start and live up to our surroundings."

In a city where seemingly everything that could happen has already happened, tonight will be a rare first as the principal tenants play their inaugural game in their new home at Investors Group Field.

The final score in tonight's pre-season game between the Toronto Argonauts and Blue Bombers is, of course, immaterial -- so much so that Bombers field boss Tim Burke revealed Tuesday he and Argos head coach Scott Milanovich have shared with each other this week some of the plays each will be using against the other tonight.

But if it's true first impressions are lasting ones and you only ever get one chance to make one, then tonight's game does count in other important ways that have to do with effort and respect and honouring the hardworking taxpayers of this province who put up $185 million of the money needed to build this team their new office.

And the Bombers players know it.

"There's going to be a lot of exciting times in this stadium over the years," the team's undisputed leader, QB Buck Pierce, offered following a light practice on Tuesday. "And we have an opportunity to start it off in the right way.

"We want to show our fans a great atmosphere and give them a great avenue to come watch a good football team play."

There wasn't much to see in that regard last year in the final season at the old Polo Park stadium -- or, more broadly, in recent years as fans watched the local pro football team miss the playoffs in three of the last four seasons.

That's not nearly good enough in a league where six of eight teams make the playoffs every season -- not for this beautiful new stadium, not even for the dump that was the old one.

And the Bombers players know that, too.

"I think with this stadium and just the way we ended the season last year," ventured cornerback Jovon Johnson, "I think we've got a lot to prove.

"And the stadium is added incentive for us to go out and be successful."

If ever there was an organization in need of a complete reset, it would look like this one. Toss out what is increasingly looking like an aberration in 2011 when Winnipeg won the East and you have an organization in the Bombers that has looked a lot like malaise has set in.

With a Grey Cup drought now in its 23rd year and playoffs being the exception rather than the rule in these parts, this is an outfit that needed someone to fire up the paddles and get some bounce back in that flatline.

Can a new stadium all by itself do that? No, not anymore than firing the head coach last season did. Some new talent would probably also help, but that's in short supply this summer after yet another mostly stand-pat off-season by GM Joe Mack.

But if 2011 and the Summer of Swaggerville proved anything, it's that this particular bunch of pro athletes can play at a frenzied level when they're excited and the fans are excited for them.

There's nothing quite like a completely fresh start to rekindle enthusiasm. And the Bombers and their fans will certainly get a very special one tonight, the likes of which comes along only once a generation in this town.

Enjoy. And please, use the coasters.

 

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 12, 2013 D3

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Updated on Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 7:05 AM CDT: replaces photos, adds video

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