What a difference a year makes. The last time the Bombers met Saskatchewan, the boys in blue limped into the 2013 Banjo Bowl on a seven-game losing streak and sitting on a dismal 1-8 record.
They'd go on to win that game after a second-half rally, while the Riders went on to win the Grey Cup. Well, this time around, the Bombers are jacked up on a 5-1 record after a thrilling Week 6 win over Hamilton, and Saskatchewan is 3-2.
Between those competitive standings and the expected sellout at Investors Group Field, tonight's game oughta be a party. "This is something where it's two provinces that truly care about their football," Bombers defensive end Jason Vega said of the rivalry on Wednesday, before adding a wink and a joking barb. "Ours cares a little more, clearly."
A TALE OF TWO QBs
If there's one curious fact that neatly summarizes the turmoil this football club has been through, it's the Bombers have started six different quarterbacks against Saskatchewan going back to 2009, with Drew Willy being the latest. Meanwhile, only Darian Durant has started against the Bombers in that same time.
This is the third time in the CFL this season a former understudy has led a team against a veteran (Week 5 featured Hamilton's Dan LeFevour vs. Ottawa Redblacks pivot Henry Burris, last week had the Stampeders' Bo Levi Mitchell against B.C. Lions' Kevin Glenn).
Willy spent two seasons learning under Durant in Saskatchewan, starting at a mini-camp in Florida where Durant drove him around.
"I was in the front seat, probably annoying him, asking him all kinds of CFL questions," Willy recalled. "I didn't know anything about the CFL yet... then our lockers were next to each other. We'd eat a lot of our meals together. When you're around quarterbacks, a lot of us speak the same language."
ONE WEEK AT A TIME
If there's any doubt head coach Mike O'Shea's mantra of taking the season one week at a time is getting through, just take a listen to the way his players talk to media. These days, just about everyone is talking about going 1-0 for the week, and shaking off any question about their record. For example: "We're going to approach it as if we're 0-0 right now," Jason Vega said of tonight's game.
As for O'Shea, the coach flashed a bit of wit when asked what he thinks each morning, when he wakes up to a 5-1 record. "I don't look at the record when I wake up in the morning," he said. "I look at my wife."
Seriously, though. "I don't look at the record, I've said it a number of times."
A couple of shuffles for Saskatchewan today. With wide receiver Taj Smith facing assault charges and now suspended after breaching a term of his release -- he allegedly visited an Ottawa bar last week -- former NFLer Chaz Schilens will start. Schilens has one catch this year, a 12-yard grab against Hamilton on June 29.
Elsewhere in the Roughriders lineup, slotback Ryan Smith is back after missing two games with a hand injury. He has six receptions on the year for 97 yards, and made three grabs for 42 yards in the last game he played on July 12 against B.C.
FASHIONISTAS AT WORK
There's a whole new look coming for the CFL, as Reebok is preparing to debut a new uniform line later this season. Every team will get a co-ordinated look: Helmet, jersey, pants, socks, gloves, the whole shebang. Teams will wear them twice before the 2014 campaign is done. The Bombers are set to debut theirs on Aug. 22, when they host Montreal; in a promo video released by the league, Jason Vega called the mystery new look "fresh."
Fans have already seen the B.C. Lions' version of the Signature Look, which they debuted last season to mixed reviews. Sure, the gunmetal jerseys looked mean and modern, but it was hard to make out the dark numbers on the jerseys. Still, Reebok said it sold well.
-- Melissa Martin