Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue experience culture shock

New sense of enthusiam grips club this season

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True story: Last August, shortly after taking over as CEO of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Wade Miller asked players to sign up for volunteer visits to Children's Hospital.

It was something the club used to do when Miller was a Bombers player, but which they'd stopped doing in recent years. And Miller wanted it to start up again.

There'd be no media coverage of the visits, players were told. And also no Tweeting -- it'd just be some football players meeting with some sick kids who needed a hug from a comically oversized hero.

A couple of players signed up.

Flash forward to this year and the same sign-up sheet went up in the Bombers locker-room at the start of the season. The entire page was filled in a single day.

Then, when a Bombers staffer took the sheet down because it was full, he was scolded -- by some players who never got a chance to sign up and wanted to be involved.

You know how you've been hearing for months about how the new Bombers regime wanted to change the culture in the locker-room this season? Well, that's what a changed culture looks like.

It's about self-sacrifice and doing the right thing the right way for the right reasons -- even when no one is looking. Especially when no one is looking.

It's the Mike O'Shea way, Bombers defensive lineman Greg Peach says of his head coach.

"Right from the first day coach O'Shea met with us, he came in and told us, 'I want guys who do not need rules.' And that's basically what he's done. He's not enforcing anything -- he's expecting us to do the right things all by ourselves.

"He doesn't yell, he's not pushing us. He just expects us to expect that of ourselves. He's put it on us -- and we've responded."

True story:

It's midway through the first quarter and the Bombers are already trailing the Ottawa Redblacks 14-0. There's loud grumbling in the stands at Investors Group Field, from fans who've seen this movie far too often the last couple of seasons and are a feeling a sense of 'Here we go again...'

A Bombers player -- one of the many, many new players the Bombers regime brought in during the off-season -- looks at a Bombers staffer and says: 'Jeez, what's the big deal? We're only down two touchdowns and it's only the first quarter.'

That is, of course, the right and proper reaction to that scenario, especially when you're playing in a league in which teams can score two TDs in the final minute of a game. Often.

But a 14-point deficit is a big deal in a town where the Bombers trailed 12 times heading into the fourth quarter last year -- and lost 12 times.

So part of changing the culture in Bomberland was changing the personnel, bringing in players less accustomed to losing and for whom a 14-point deficit isn't such a monumental obstacle.

The result on the field? A Blue Bombers team that is 2-0, thanks to a heart-stopping come-from-behind win over Ottawa last week.

And off the field? Well, remember that overflowing volunteer sheet? That's also a function of feeling good about being a Bomber, for the first time in a long time.

"There was a lot of doom and gloom around this team last year. It was a difficult time and that transferred to every facet of what we do as professional football players," said offensive lineman Glenn January.

"But what we've been doing on the field this season is second only to what we're hoping to do in the community.

"We know we've got a bit of a bruised reputation right now with our performance the last couple years. And so we're not taking anything for granted -- especially not our fans."

email: paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 9, 2014 0

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