Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers have clear target

Hosting the Grey Cup is one thing; getting to play in it and winning the big game would reap biggest rewards

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Wade Miller gave the only answer he could give when asked Wednesday whether the CFL's announcement that his club will host the 2015 Grey Cup gives the Winnipeg Blue Bombers a fixed point on the horizon to direct their ground-up organizational rebuild.

"This organization will play to win the Grey Cup every year. So whatever year we're hosting the Grey Cup isn't going to matter for us on the football side of this organization," said the Bombers CEO. "We want to win and compete to win it every year."

That is, of course, the right answer when you're the boss of a team that is at this very moment trying to convince fans to forget all about Winnipeg's 3-15 season in 2013 and plunk down still more of their hard-earned money on season tickets for 2014.

So yeah, every year's the same. We're always trying our hardest to win, we're reloading, not rebuilding, etc. But as any self-improvement book will tell you, the first step in turning a new page is setting realistic goals for yourself. And that is probably not, let's face it, a 2014 Grey Cup championship for a franchise that won just three times in 2013 -- and just nine games in the last two seasons combined.

And especially not in 2014, when the Bombers are about to move to the larger and tougher West Division and are doing it with a starting quarterback with just four previous starts in his professional career and a rookie head coach.

That's a steep hill to climb. And while no one in these parts is going to complain if the Bombers win the Grey Cup in 2014, no one is going to blame them either if it takes the club until Nov. 29, 2015 -- the date of the 103rd Grey Cup at Investors Group Field -- to win the city's first CFL championship since 1990.

But make no mistake, with Wednesday's official announcement 2015 is now the hard target for Miller, GM Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O'Shea to get the Bombers back to the big game.

Because the financial stakes are huge. Consider: The Toronto Argonauts -- where Grey Cup games have in recent decades gone to die -- turned a reported profit of close to $10 million when they hosted the 2012 Grey Cup.

Some of that windfall came because the Argos fleeced the feder al government for all kinds of taxpayer cash to help them mark the historic 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup. But the fact the Argos were also in the game -- and won it -- was also a huge driver all week long of that event's success and contributed immeasurably to the Argos' eye-popping bottom line.

The same was also true last season in Regina, where the Roughriders from Day 1 of the 2013 season were determined they would not be denied playing in their own Grey Cup and tasked GM Brendan Taman to do whatever it took -- and then some -- to get them to the big game.

The Riders, like the Argos (and like the B.C. Lions in 2011), not only got to the Grey Cup they hosted, they won it, too. And while Saskatchewan hasn't yet released what it all meant to the team's bottom line in 2013, there was loose talk in Regina last fall that if the Riders went on to win the 2013 Grey Cup that they'd take down a record total profit approaching $10 million.

So yeah, Miller can say the 2015 Grey Cup is no different to the Bombers from a football operations point of view than this year's big game or the one in 2016, but the bean counters in the Bombers front office know better.

And so, too, does the CFL commissioner. In announcing Winnipeg had been awarded the 2015 game, Mark Cohon went out of his way at Wednesday's news conference to point out the last three Grey Cup hosts also played in it -- and won it.

And Cohon left little doubt, when asked about it later, that the league benefits immeasurably from the buzz created when a host team plays in a Grey Cup.

"It brings a different flavour to it," said Cohon.

Bombers fans could use a different flavour to wash out the bad taste of the last two seasons.

This organization is now on the clock. And it started ticking the moment Cohon sat down Wednesday.

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 27, 2014 D1

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