As impressive as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were on the field Thursday night -- and they were spectacular in a 45-21 opening-night throttling of the Toronto Argonauts -- it says here the Bombers saved their best performance, and potentially most important, for the locker-room after the game.
You know how your dad or brother or coach told you once you should celebrate accomplishment in sport -- whether it's a touchdown or a home run or a goal -- as though you've done it before and, most importantly, expect to do so again?
That was what it was like in the bowels of Investors Group Field as the Bombers celebrated a stunning victory, but in the kind of muted way that befits a win in Week 1 of an 18-game season.
There was loud music and slapping of backs and highing of fives. But it all played out against a backdrop -- both stated and unstated -- that the heavy lifting is still to come.
Yeah, so what's the big deal you ask? Isn't that the way all professional locker-rooms are supposed to behave?
Exactly. And that's the point -- it's been a couple of years now since the atmosphere in the Bombers locker-room could be described as anything remotely resembling professional.
All too often the last two seasons, the seemingly never-ending string of losses were accompanied by either tantrums and petulance or, even worse, a shrug of the shoulders.
And on the rare occasion the Bombers did win the last couple of years, the arrogance and cockiness was so off the charts -- and so misplaced -- an outsider would think they were in the locker-room of the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers after their fourth Super Bowl win, instead of a room belonging to a team that won three games last year.
But the inmates are no longer running the asylum now that Mike O'Shea is the sheriff in these parts. And it's no longer amateur hour in a locker-room that's gone from the youngest and most inexperienced in the CFL the last two seasons to the fifth most seasoned in the league this year.
They're mature and they're well-coached. And so, even as they savoured the long-awaited fruits of a hard-fought training camp, they knew Thursday night that turnarounds the likes of which the Bombers are trying to author this season are not built on one win on opening night, even one as complete and dominating as what we saw against the Argos.
"I don't care how many points we won by -- this is just one win," said offensive tackle Glenn January. "And we have a long season ahead of us. So we can't get too high off this."
All of which was the same message being sent by the leaders on the defensive side of the locker-room Thursday night. "We've got so many new faces and you start to get excited -- especially the newer guys," said defensive end Jason Vega. "But you have to realize it's an 18-game season. We started out in 2011 at 7-0 [sic] and then we didn't play so well down the stretch."
Indeed, the 2011 experience is an interesting case study on how cockiness and arrogance can distract from a team's focus. The so-called Swaggerville phenomenon that went with the 7-1 Bombers' run that season became bigger than the team itself and the result was there for all to see -- a 3-7 finish to the regular season and ultimately a lopsided loss to the B.C. Lions in the Grey Cup game.
The question now is whether the Bombers can carry the steely focus and humble work ethic that produced that big win over Toronto into next week's home game against the Ottawa Redblacks.
In horse racing, a horse that defies its previous form and runs an exceptional race will often regress -- or "bounce" -- the next time out. The good news for the Bombers is that with the expansion Redblacks coming to town, Winnipeg could probably afford a slight regression and still win.
But a slight regression and a complete reversal to their previous form would be two very different things.
The Bombers performed impressively, on the field and off of it Thursday.
Now, can they do it again?
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