You have to give them credit.
History will record that in the sequel of the farewell to Canad Inns Stadium, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers dug deep and sent the old barn out on a winning note again.
Now, no one is going to confuse this year’s send-off — a 19-11 victory over the Montreal Alouettes Saturday afternoon in a meaningless game — with Winnipeg’s victory over Hamilton in the East Final last year that sent the Bombers to the Grey Cup.
But in a game that looked for three quarters like the Bombers — as they have so many times this season — were going to simply roll over and die in the face of a deficit, they found a little extra and rattled off 11 points in the final quarter to take back the history of the occasion.
And so with that, the 2012 CFL season goes into the books for the Bombers at 6-12. That ties Winnipeg with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the worst record in the CFL, but — in one final indignity to the 2012 season — actually deprives the Bombers of the first overall pick in the 2013 CFL draft.
Winnipeg won the season series against Hamilton and so will choose second when the league holds its draft next May, but there was not a player or coach in the Bombers locker-room Saturday who would have traded the collective emotional lift they got from beating the East Division champion for the second time in a month for a higher draft pick.
Offensive lineman Glenn January traced his team’s fourth-quarter performance back to Thursday, when the club announced they were retaining head coach Tim Burke and GM Joe Mack for next season, and even before that.
"Whenever the higher-ups make a commitment to the people who brought in the majority of this locker-room, you have to believe that in turn is a commitment in us," said January. "It really renews a sense of what we’re playing for. This game had a lot of storylines going in...
"We owed it to the fans. And even more so, we owed it to the guys who came before us and laid the groundwork for what it means to be a Blue Bomber."
As they have so many times previously, the Bombers quickly fell behind in the first quarter as Alouettes backup QB Adrian McPherson — filling in for starter Anthony Calvillo — led scoring drives on his team’s first two possessions of the game, the first culminating in a 17-yard Sean Whyte field goal and the second in a five-yard keeper that capped a nine-play, 73-yard drive.
With a 10-0 deficit to end the quarter, the Bombers end the 2012 season having been outscored an appalling 145-45 in the first quarter. But what was different in the script on this day was that a team that was just 2-11 when trailing at half-time this season, found a way in the second half to get it done.
And the way they found was courtesy of the quick feet of punt returner Jovon Johnson, whose 42-yard return in the third quarter led to a Bombers field goal and whose 70-yard return in the fourth quarter led to a go-ahead six-yard touchdown run by QB Justin Goltz that put the Bombers up for good.
"Any time I get a chance to run back a return," said Johnson, who did that job only sporadically this season after being the team’s regular returner in previous years, "it just makes me that much better of a football player."
Burke said that while the win meant nothing in the standings, it meant a lot to his team as they finished with a 4-3 record in their last seven games.
"It shows that there’s a lot of character there, there’s guys who have ability to play and can beat teams. We won two tough games on the road against good opponents. There’s a lot of positives in this," said Burke.
Playing with a long list of injury replacements, including at the quarterback position where third- and fourth-stringers Alex Brink and Goltz respectively were at the controls, the Bombers racked up 357 yards of offence and won the turnover battle 2-0.
Brink finished 17-26 for 173 yards passing along with another 58 yards rushing, the only blemish an interception in the dying seconds of the second quarter as Winnipeg was attempting to move into field goal position. Goltz was a modest 3-5 for 30 yards and the rushing TD, but he showed poise and used the reps he did receive — he played the whole fourth quarter — to help lead the comeback.
McPherson went 17-26 for 193 yards in the air, but the Montreal pivot did his most damage on the ground, where he rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown. Montreal finished with 328 yards in total offence.
Burke said he and his coaching staff will conduct exit interviews of the players over the course of the next few days, before the coaches themselves will meet and begin diagramming next season.
Burke will also have to hire a defensive co-ordinator, a job he said he hopes to have filled "as soon as possible" and certainly no later than Christmas.
FIELDNOTES — Bombers wide receiver Chris Matthews, who got injured in the third quarter on a hit by Montreal safety Kyries Hebert, said after the game that he was knocked out on the play but felt fine...The last play ever at Canad Inns Stadium was a Kenny Mainor sack of McPherson...An announced crowd of 26,907 looked to be something closer to about 18,000 to 19,000.