Blue Bomber Report Record: 6–6–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue will need emotional rescue if they lose

Psychological wounds could really mess with them

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The Banjo Bowl is not the Grey Cup, but in terms of significance to this football team, there is no more important game on the schedule than Sunday's contest at noon.

Every season has a game or two that defines a team, a pivotal contest that turns the fortunes of a football squad one way or another.

How this group of athletes responds to what happened to them last week will tell you all you need to know about their resolve, character, fortitude, and anything else you may wonder.

Last season, there were two opportunities that provided a cross-sectional of the players on the 2011 roster. The first was how the team responded, under the steady hand of Paul LaPolice, and won a football game only days after losing one of the most charismatic coaches this franchise has ever seen. The other was the Grey Cup, which exposed an offence that had been hiding in the shadow of its defensive big brother all season long.

Last weekend's result was a monumental failure on a number of levels. Most prominently, any loss to Saskatchewan counts for double in this province, simply because it's the Riders.

It was also a result no one could have anticipated, as Saskatchewan was wallowing in a five-game losing streak, dead last in the West, and the Bombers had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by allowing the Lions to steal a win the week prior. When defeat comes as a surprise, the horror is always compounded.

Yet this is still to say nothing of the score tabulation, fresh in everyone's minds, and only six days old. When you are defeated by a margin that sends the statisticians into a page-flipping frenzy, it is something that won't be forgotten anytime soon, by anyone.

The only time I played for a team that had a head coach fired mid-season was in 2004 when Dave Ritchie was replaced by Jim Daley after a disfiguring road loss to the Stampeders. Days later, when we played the Ottawa Renegades, we dismantled them like some wobbly Lego set, still reeling and fueled by the emotion of losing our leader. That is how, at least in the short term, teams are supposed to react to the firing of a head coach, not the other way around.

Most of you have only been privy to the fallout from the Labour Day Classic as has been presented to the public via print, radio, and television.

Believe it when I say the players that make up the Blue and Gold roster have been walking around now for almost a week, wearing that loss on their person like some festering rash that people point and stare at. Or at least, they should have been.

For if there was one thing that was made crystal clear this week, it was that the players had their fingerprints all over that defeat, and they have been paying for it dearly.

As you could probably anticipate, newly appointed head coach Tim Burke read the team the riot act, position by position, almost player by player, on their first day back this week. Then there was a players only meeting, where some took turns venting their frustrations and opinions about what needed to be done. Embarrassment lends to anger, and this is one very angry football team that will take the field on Sunday.

Normally, it is difficult for any franchise to win back-to-back games, simply because of the differences in preparation between the two teams after the first game.

For every expletive uttered by a Bomber player and level of intensity raised in practice this week, you can be assured there was a joke, a pat on the back, a congratulatory remark, and some laughter emanating from the Saskatchewan side of business.

If talent levels are comparable, these intangibles will be the deciding factors.

By measuring the Blue Bomber response Sunday, every question you had about this team will be answered. Win, and there is still hope for the team and the season. Lose, by one point or by 20, and the psychological wounds may be too deep to recover from.

 

Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 8, 2012 C4

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