Blue Bomber Report Record: 3–15–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Can't hardly wait to fight the Evil Empire

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Can't Hardly Wait, Entertainment Weekly's 44th best high-school movie of all time, does a better job describing how many of us feel about Friday's pending Eskimos/Bombers matchup than conveying any memorable cinematic moments from 1998.

Suffice to say it's only Week 3 in the CFL, but as far as critical matchups go, this Friday's contest is a must-win for both franchises and rife with compelling storylines.

The saving grace for all muddling 2012 teams, thanks to the 2011 Grey Cup champion B.C. Lions, who overcame an 0-5 start, is that it's not how you begin, but how you finish the 18-game playoff preamble. That being said, the odds of a team duplicating the successes of those Leos a year ago, are far less probable than a continuation of miring in the mud of an 0-3 or a 1-2 record.

Yet even before these two teams played their first couple of games of the regular season, this was a date that CFL fans had circled on their calendar because of all the mounting tensions and drama between the two teams.

Starting at the top, Kavis Reed, the head coach of the Eskimos, was the defensive co-ordinator of the Bombers in 2010, who was snatched up and elevated to his first head coaching appointment by Eric Tillman before the dust on the 2010 season had even settled. Mark Nelson, the linebackers coach in Edmonton, was the defensive co-ordinator of the Blue and Gold in 2009, who was fired after one year at the helm of the most respectable phase of that '09 football team. Most recently, Jamie Barresi, the RB coach and running game co-ordinator of the Eskimos, was the "offensive co-ordinator" in River City for 2010 and 2011, and was fired last off-season and immediately signed by Reed.

Whether they admit it or not, this game is personal and vendetta-filled, with more than sufficient variables to captivate an audience, but it doesn't end with the coaching staffs.

Just this past off-season, the Eskimos poached WR Greg Carr from the Blue and Gold after Bomber management thought a deal had been done to retain his services. Donny Oramasionwu, a player who many felt was the heir apparent to yours truly, could not come to terms with his hometown team and also joined the Evil Empire to the west. Lastly, and not to be forgotten, were the highly publicized attempts by all these former Winnipeg staffers to steal the biggest piece of Blue Bombers property, Brendon Labatte, the top offensive free agent of 2011, who regrettably for both teams, ended up back home in Saskatchewan.

If there was ever a time I would want to play bona fide sports reporter, it would be on Thursday in the Edmonton dressing room, with media requests in one hand to speak to Barresi, Oramasionwu and Carr, and my sound-bite machine in the other. But that would only satisfy the antagonistic side of my personality. My competitive side knows that this game is as important as Week 3 matchups get.

In Edmonton, I cannot recall the last time I saw both a GM and a head coach jump on a grenade so fast -- like synchronized swimmers -- even before the pin was pulled, after a one-point offensive display in Saskatchewan on Sunday. Steven Jyles may have survived the Week 1 matchup between himself and Eskimo Hall of Famer gone Boatman Ricky Ray, but the trade issue is not going away anytime soon, especially after Ray got his groove back and led his Argos to an upset win over Calgary on Saturday, and Jyles was swapped out twice for Kerry Joseph against the Riders. You don't have to be an Edmonton insider to know that Stephen Jyles' performance over the long haul in the city of champions will decide more than just his own employment prospects.

Things are just as urgent and desperate in Winnipeg. While everyone foresaw challenges out of the gate with four consecutive road games and back-to-back contests with B.C. and Montreal, many are alarmed by the lack of production on offence and the uncharacteristic play of late by last year's league-leading defence.

Rest assured, this will not be a fun week for any of the players in preparation for this game. More so than anything else, Friday's contest will tell us which coaching staff was better able to translate the urgency of the moment to their team, and impress upon their charges that there is no time like the present to start living up to expectations.

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 July 10, 2012 C2

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