Blue Bomber Report Record: 4–1–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Game Day: Home is where the heart is

Winless Big Blue better show it to faithful fans tonight

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The fans will show up tonight. They always do, more or less, in these parts.

But the larger question is whether, for the first time this season, their football team will as well.

More than 28,000 tickets had been sold as of Wednesday afternoon for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' 2012 home opener against the Edmonton Eskimos at Canad Inns Stadium tonight at 7:30.

That's about 1,500 short of a sellout, and it will take a significant walk-up number for the club to nab its eighth straight regular-season sellout, going back to last year.

It would be too bad if the sellout streak ends one game short of tying a 59-year-old franchise record. Nevertheless, it's a tribute to the fortitude of the Blue Bombers faithful that the club is even within striking distance of a sellout after a performance this year that can only be described as a debacle on the field and off.

Just consider for a moment what the Bombers are selling tonight:

"Hey sports fans! We were wondering if you would like to pay good money tonight to come out to a dilapidated football stadium that we promised we'd never play in again in order to watch a football team that is presently a CFL laughingstock at 0-4. Oh, and did we mention the concessions are lousy too?"

Against that backdrop, the news tonight isn't that something less than a sellout crowd might turn up, but rather that anyone is coming out at all.

It bears reminding that tonight was supposed to be the night the Bombers formally unveiled their new stadium at the University of Manitoba. Instead, the new stadium has been in the news for an entirely different reason this week as the first of what might be several lawsuits over construction delays finally hit the front counter at the Law Courts Building.

If you could sue a football team for failing to perform, there would probably be a few of those filed on York Avenue this week, too (The Citizens of Winnipeg vs. Joe Mack, Paul LaPolice et al).

The "et al" would include all three aspects of the 2012 Bombers -- offence, defence and special teams -- none of which has yet to figure out how to put together a consistent performance from game to game or at the same time.

At least the special teams and offence have excuses. The special-teams unit has given up some big plays and made some boneheaded ones, but you can still make the argument that the play of placekicker Justin Palardy and returner Demond Washington has made the Bombers' special teams the best part of a bad lot.

As for the offence, they have the legitimate excuse that they've been beaten up at quarterback and are implementing -- or at least trying to implement -- a brand-new offence under an offensive co-ordinator who had no experience with three-down football until he got the job last winter.

The defence, on the other hand, has no such excuse. Yes, they've got some key injuries too, but they've had them since training camp and it's getting old hearing the same refrain week in and week out. And yes, they've also been playing better, especially last week against Toronto.

But the bottom line remains that this Bombers team, just like last year's, will live or die by their defence.

So far, they've been dying. But as of tonight, the train has pulled back into the station formerly known as Swaggerville and the local faithful will be begging for something -- anything -- to cheer about.

Maybe QB Alex Brink will light up the Eskimos secondary and they can cheer about that. Maybe Washington will rip off a return for a TD and they can cheer about that. But in all likelihood, if there will be anything for the locals to cheer about tonight, it will have to start with the defence.

And the defence knows it.

"We know what's at stake," Bombers cornerback Jovon Johnson reflected Wednesday. "It starts with us as a defence to stop allowing teams to score a bunch of points on us. That's just the bottom line and everyone understands that.

"And any time we get to play at home in front of our fans with them backing us the way they do, it's big for us... We can feed off the electricity of the crowd."

The battery is still charged from a Grey Cup appearance last season. But in these dog days of summer, the charge is dwindling rapidly and a blackout looms unless someone reignites a spark soon.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 26, 2012 C1

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