December 9, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Buster DOUGLAS over Mike Tyson. Sure -- the champ was getting fat on his celebrity.
The Americans over the Russians at Lake Placid. Absolutely -- great goaltending can take a team a long way.
But the Blue Bombers over the Roughriders in Regina Sunday? Now you're just talking crazy-talk.
While it is a truism that anything can happen on any given Sunday -- and in the Crazy Football League, in particular -- you would not only have to be an incorrigible optimist to think Winnipeg is going to beat Saskatchewan at Mosaic Field this weekend, you'd also have to be delusional.
The city of Regina is the place where Winnipeg football teams -- not to mention a lot of other things -- go to die. And it has been that way for so long that the eight-year-old kid sitting across the breakfast table from you right now knows no other world.
Look at it this way: The last time the Winnipeg Blue Bombers won a football game in Regina, George W. Bush was still in the first term of his presidency, Randy Carlyle was the head coach of the Manitoba Moose and something called the iPhone was still three years away from being introduced.
Yes, the internal combustion engine did exist on Sept. 5, 2004. Ditto penicillin, the microchip and the Pizza Pop. But it is a monument to just how long it's been since Winnipeg last beat Saskatchewan in the Labour Day Weekend Classic that not a single member of the current Bombers roster -- not Steve Morley, not Terrence Edwards, not even Buck Pierce -- was even in the CFL at the time.
But the Bombers are going to win this year? Yeah, right.
On the contrary, you could make a persuasive argument that given the present circumstances -- the Riders 7-1 record, the Bombers 1-7 record and Saskatchewan's complete dominance of the Labour Day game -- this might just be the worst single mismatch of the entire 2013 CFL season.
The bookmakers have anointed the Riders 141/2-point favourites to win Sunday and it's hard to disagree when you consider this same Bombers team comes into the weekend fresh off back-to-back losses to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats the last two weeks that came by margins of 23 and 19 points.
In a league that is all about getting a little better every week until you peak in November, the Bombers -- by almost any measure -- have been instead getting worse as this season wears on.
But full marks -- the club put on its bravest face on Friday and talked a good game after they went through their final full practice at Investors Group Field before travelling today to Regina.
Head coach Tim Burke said he understands why most people aren't giving his team much of a chance this weekend, but said he remains a believer.
"I think we have a legitimate chance to win every game," said Burke. "We just have to go out and perform with great effort, enthusiasm and passion. Anything can happen if you play like that."
Which would be true, of course, if the Bombers ever actually played like that again this season. But if effort, enthusiasm and passion are the key ingredients to victory, the first half of last week's debacle against Hamilton would suggest the Bombers are currently 0-3 in those critical departments.
Add to that deficit a playing environment for the visitors at Mosaic Field Sunday that will be so hostile as to resemble a combat zone and it might not take much for this year's "Classic" to resemble last year's "Classic" -- a 52-0 Riders victory over the Bombers in what was Burke's first game as Bombers head coach.
"It's a particularly hard environment to play in," Bombers QB Justin Goltz -- who gets the start on Sunday in a case of "careful what you wish for" -- explained Friday. "It's harsh. And you get it from the fans and you get it from a great football team."
There was lots of talk from Bombers players on Friday about what a great rivalry Winnipeg has with Saskatchewan and how it meets or exceeds even some of the epic rivalries in U.S. college football.
But what kind of rivalry is it, really, when one side has so utterly dominated for the better part of a decade now?
"A lopsided rivalry," said Bombers cornerback Brandon Stewart, "that we're trying to make right."
Nine times a charm?
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 31, 2013 C1