They all had their fingers crossed, had whispered more prayers than a Sunday at the Vatican and — to a man — had an inkling deep down inside that this little production might actually be decent.
But, really, even the most optimistic of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers — especially those still in therapy after last year’s nightmare — had to be wondering this after the curtain came down on Thursday’s absolutely dominant 45-21 season-opening win over the Toronto Argonauts:
Honest, now... who saw this coming?
These under-new-management Bombers didn’t just light up the Argos at Investors Group Field in their opener, they set them ablaze in the first 10 minutes with two quick scores backed up by a stifling defence and then kept the fire raging right to the final gun.
Yes, as beatdowns goes this was as thorough as they come.
What should fans take away from this, O’Shea was asked after the game?
"They should buy tickets and fill the stadium," said the rookie head coach. "As much as these players who have been here the last few years need this win, so do the fans and our players appreciate that. Our players who have been here recognize the fact that these fans need this win so I’m happy for them. I’m ecstatic for the fans… they needed this, this community needed this. The players need to understand it’s bigger than them."
From understudy to star?
As much as the Bombers were a mystery heading into their 2014 opener, no player was more under the microscope than quarterback Drew Willy. The University of Buffalo product had all of four CFL starts on his resumé in two years with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and had thrown just 147 career passes in this league.
All Willy did was complete eight of his first 10 passes as a Bomber — two of them perfect strikes to Aaron Kelly — in Winnipeg’s first three possessions. He was replaced with about five minutes to go by Brian Brohm after completing 18 of 26 passes for 305 yards and four TDs — the other two to Cory Watson and Julian Felino-Gudino — against just one interception.
Just how big were those four TD tosses? The last Bomber pivot to throw for four scores in a game was Steven Jyles — way back on Sept. 24, 2010 in a 44-40 loss to Montreal.
Willy looked comfortable in the pocket, took some shots to deliver passes and connected with seven different receivers. Couple that with the solid work of the offensive line and a solid debut by running back Nic Grigsby — 21 carries for 122 yards — and Marcel Bellefeuille’s offence showed a balance that has been missing in these parts for eons.
Other guys were good, too
As impressive as Willy and the offensive crew were against the Boatmen, what stands out is how solid the rest of the squad was — especially for a Week 1 effort. Winnipeg’s defence was outstanding, forcing a fumble and forcing Ricky Ray & Co. into two two-and-out possessions in their first three drives.
All told, Ray completed 27 of 38 passes for 283 yards and two TDs, but never really seemed to find a rhythm against the Bomber defence, which chipped in for a score of their own courtesy a Demond Washington fumble return that was the perfect snapshot of how defensive co-ordinator Gary Etcheverry wants his bunch to play.
There was a breakdown on special teams as Chad Owens returned a Mike Renaud punt for a meaningless score with 4:07 remaining — and that will drive O’Shea berserk — but that was somewhat offset by a successful fake punt that saw Mike Renaud hook up with Teague Sherman for a first down.
Gatorade shower likely never felt so good
O’Shea has steered clear of stepping into the spotlight at all since he first took over — just another game, in it to win it and yadda, yadda, yadda — but earning his first win against his old club had to feel pretty dang good. And when he was doused with ice water as the seconds ticked off as the crowd stood and cheered, he must have had to fight back the urge to say a thousand ‘I told you so’s.’
After all, how often does a first-night production look so solid?