It was cold, dark and raining Monday morning as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers teed off in their annual golf tournament at Southwood Golf and Country Club.
Monday's storm clouds -- on what might have been the worst day all summer to hold a golf tournament -- were nothing compared to the ones that swirled around this team when they held the tournament last year.
Indeed, the Bombers' annual golf tournament -- held in the week leading up to Labour Day Weekend -- is a useful signpost to illustrate just how far and how fast this team has come in the space of one year.
-- When the Bombers teed off in 2013, the club was 1-7 and still a smoking ruin from the firings two weeks earlier of GM Joe Mack and CEO Garth Buchko.
-- When the Bombers teed off Monday, they were 6-3 and GM Kyle Walters and CEO Wade Miller are not only firmly entrenched, they might have the best job security in Canada right now.
The differences from one golf tournament to the next don't end there.
-- A scouting department that last summer was nothing more than Mack, assistant Ken Moll and a series of cocktail napkins is now a finely tuned, well-staffed machine led by CFL hall-of-famer Danny McManus.
-- A head coach in Tim Burke, who was a nice guy but overmatched in the job, has been replaced by a head coach in Mike O'Shea, who is, well, less nice, but clearly very well suited to the task at hand.
-- A disgruntled fan base that was sick and tired of all the losing suddenly once again cannot get enough of a Bombers team that is winning -- and doing so in a thrilling and highly entertaining way.
You've come a long way, baby.
"Yeah, we have come a long way. But we also still have a long way to go," Miller told the Free Press in an interview Monday.
"As an organization, we're clearly going in the right direction, but we've still got a lot still to do. And every day, on and off the field, we're getting up and figuring out a way how to win championships and sell tickets."
Miller noted on a rare day off for the players, the Southwood clubhouse was packed with players eager to do their part to please the team's sponsors.
"It's a day off and yet all the players are here golfing," said Miller, "because they know what this team is trying to do and what this team means to this community."
Miller isn't the only one to notice a "team first" attitude in these 2014 Bombers. Late Friday night, with most of the Bombers locker-room cleared out after a gritty 24-16 win over the Montreal Alouettes, defensive tackle Bryant Turner reflected on all the changes he's seen in his team in the past year.
The talent has been upgraded, for sure, but Turner said it's deeper than that.
"Leaving out the physical and athletic part, we just have some really good guys on this team. That's the honest to God truth -- we just have really quality guys on this team.
"All across the board, these are guys who love their job, are really professional and are just good-hearted guys. We don't have any cancers on this team this year. And that's why, even besides the athletic part, I saw really good things for this team from the beginning.
"Even before we hit the field, I saw big things for this team. And it's just starting to show more and more -- six-and-three definitely shows the character of the guys we have on this team."
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