Tim Burke had an exceptionally daunting task this week. And that's saying something, seeing as Burke is the head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and all.
With his club mired in the CFL cellar at 3-10 and facing the very real prospect this coming Monday of getting carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey by the Montreal Alouettes, Burke dispensed Friday with any silly talk to his players about needing to win in Montreal on Monday to keep the club's playoff chances alive.
Yes, technically the Bombers are still in the playoff hunt. And yes, both linebacker Jovon Johnson and running back Chad Simpson spoke Friday of the need to continue to work toward that goal until all mathematical possibility has been eliminated.
But with howling winds up to 60 km/h, bitter temperatures and what was a driving snowstorm at a couple points during practice at Canad Inns Stadium on Friday, theoretical talk from the coach about playoff pipe dreams wasn't going to get it done in the motivation department.
And so instead, Burke talked to his players prior to practice about reflecting on what it was that caused them to want to be football players in the first place.
"Try to think back to the time when you fell in love with the game," Burke said he told his players. "And try to recapture that feeling. Because I think guys are pressing too much and putting too much pressure on themselves.
"And I want them to just go out there and play this game just for the sheer joy of being a great athlete, of being a professional and for the love of the game."
Burke made the speech one day after newly signed offensive lineman Lee Barbiasz informed the Bombers he was returning home after just one day of practice.
Barbiasz, a recent cut of the Jacksonville Jaguars, took part in a blustery practice on Thursday and then informed the team he'd already had enough and was returning home. Burke said Barbiasz didn't specify what caused such an abrupt change of heart, other than to say football just "wasn't that important" to him anymore.
Maybe it had something to do with Winnipeg's bad weather. Maybe it had something to do with Winnipeg's brutal record. Whatever it was, the challenge for Burke this week has been to ensure the rest of his players who did choose to stick around did so in mind and spirit and not just as a body in need of a paycheque.
Bombers QB Joey Elliott said Burke's appeal for his players to look deep inside themselves resonated with a team facing the scary prospects that go with carrying a 3-10 record into Montreal, where the Alouettes are a cool 6-1 this season.
"When you were a kid, you probably grew up being the best (football player) on your block or in your neighborhood," said Elliott.
"But what really pushed you to be the kind of player you are and why are you here? Basically, gut-check why you love the game. If you really love it that much, put in that much more effort and if we come away with a win, it will be that much sweeter."
A win might be a lot for Elliott to ask of himself and his teammates at this point. The Bombers have yet to win anywhere on the road this season -- they're a perfect 0-6 -- and Montreal has beaten Winnipeg both times the teams faced each other this season.
But what is perhaps more realistic to ask of this Bombers team in Montreal -- and perhaps it was precisely what Burke was asking of his charges Friday -- is that they show some character amid all the adversity and put forth an effort that they -- and their long-suffering fanbase -- can be proud of by game's end Monday afternoon, regardless of the final score.
That hasn't always been the case this season, especially lately. And the Bombers will miss the playoffs this season for the third time in four years because of it.
But with nothing more to play for at this point other than pride, Burke's assignment to his players on Friday was to ask themselves if they still have any. They have the weekend to consider the question; the answer is due Monday afternoon.