Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Goodbye again, old friend

This time, Bombers really are leaving the Polo Park stadium

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In retrospect, we should have suspected it was all too neat and tidy.

A touchdown run by Winnipeg Blue Bombers running back Chris Garrett before a sellout crowd on the final play -- supposedly ever -- at Canad Inns Stadium in last November's East Final put an exclamation point on a frigid 19-3 Winnipeg victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, sent Winnipeg to the Grey Cup and provided a storybook finish to a stadium that was, for better and worse, an icon in this city for over 50 years.

It was a little piece of Winnipeg history all nicely tied up in a pretty bow for us all to seemingly admire for generations to come. Until it wasn't.

Because, jump ahead 50 weeks to this afternoon and we're going to play out the whole "Final Game" charade again, only this time the fairy tale ending is a horror story, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have seemingly never been further from the Grey Cup and that capacity crowd from last year would fit nicely, probably with room to spare, in one grandstand this afternoon.

From heroes to zeros, the Bombers have fallen further and faster than that guy who jumped from outer space last month.

"I heard the new marketing phrase is: 'Last Time at Canad Inns -- This Time We're Serious,'" offensive tackle Glenn January laughed Friday following the last-ever practice at the Polo Park stadium.

And why not laugh -- the Bombers' season has been a joke and the Bombers organization has been a laughingstock and the only thing left to do is turn out the lights on a stadium that's the only thing in Winnipeg more broken down than Buck Pierce.

They say closure is essential in the recovery process after a traumatic event and there's not much doubt Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans were traumatized by their team this season. And so in that sense, perhaps the closure fans will obtain today -- on the 2012 season, on the stadium, on an entire era in this city's sporting history -- is coming at an ideal moment.

If the Bombers hit rock bottom this season -- on the field and in the front office -- than there is only one way to go from here. And January, for one, says he sees today's game -- coming as it does just 48 hours after the club announced head coach Tim Burke and general manager Joe Mack will return in 2013 -- as not so much the end of an era, but rather the beginning of one.

"Now that we have a future in place and we know we've got some continuity, we're not viewing this as the last game of this year, we're viewing it as the first game of next year. This is an opportunity for us to start something and end on a high note," said January.

"We owe it to ourselves. We owe it to the fans. And we owe it to the coaching staff and upper management to go out there and get a win."

A win today would actually cost the Bombers the first overall pick in next year's CFL draft because it would vault them over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and into seventh place overall in the final regular-season standings. But the mood in this organization this week is that they will gladly trade one place in the entry draft for the modicum of self-respect that would be earned from grinding out a win over the Montreal Alouettes this afternoon.

This is a team, after all, that has all too often failed over the last season-and-a-half to answer in games that called for a display of heart and character, most recently in a must-win game last weekend in Hamilton in which they mustered the grand total of 18 points against a Ticats defence that promptly gave up 43 points to a third-string quarterback in Toronto on Thursday in a must-win game of their own.

A win today certainly wouldn't provide the fairy tale finish of last year's East Final. But in some ways it would be an even more fitting send-off for the old stadium -- ugly, deeply flawed and very, very gritty.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 3, 2012 C1

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