BRENDON LaBatte and Odell Willis say they've prepared themselves for hostile receptions when the former Winnipeg Blue Bombers players take the field at Canad Inns Stadium for the Banjo Bowl this afternoon wearing the green uniforms of the hated Saskatchewan Roughriders.
LaBatte said he has no doubt that he will be targeted for abuse -- right alongside his teammates on the Riders sideline -- by the notorious East Side fans. And he's not concerned.
"That's fine -- that's water off a duck's back." LaBatte told reporters in Winnipeg Saturday afternoon. "That's such a small part of the game. When people want to make the personal attacks and all that -- it doesn't hold a lot of credibility. You definitely don't get wrapped up in too much of that.
"You ignore it, block it out and know that it's only for a couple hours. You turn the other cheek and hopefully execute well on the field and hopefully that will take some wind out of them."
Willis, in contrast, said he's looking forward to sharing in a colourful afternoon of banter. "I expect to hear everything. I enjoy it," he said. "I hope someone gives me a good one to give me something to laugh about.
"So like I said, I expect the worst. But I like it."
LaBatte signed with the Riders as a free agent in the off-season after a four-year career with the Bombers, while Willis was traded to Saskatchewan over the winter after spending the last two seasons in Blue and Gold.
Today's big game marks the first time the two have returned to Canad Inns Stadium.
LaBatte was a CFL all-star last season and his off-season departure has often been cited this season as a factor in Winnipeg's disastrous 2-7 start.
LaBatte says he has nothing "but fond memories" of his time in Winnipeg, but suspects not all Bombers fans will remember him as fondly as he does them. "I've got nothing bad to say. I'm sure there are people out there who have bad things to say about me.
"But like I said earlier... it's definitely something I'm not too worried about."
Willis said he's wistful about his time in Winnipeg, but also happy to be where he is. "It's bittersweet," said Willis. "I miss the surroundings outside the football. But other than that, it is what it is. It's a business, I'm a Rider now, I enjoy it and I love it.
"I just miss my friends. Other than that, I'm happy where I'm at right now."
LaBatte thinks the backdrop for today's game, coming just a week after a 52-0 Riders' defeat of the Bombers in Regina, couldn't be simpler.
"They've obviously got redemption on their mind," said LaBatte, "and we have repeat on ours."