Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

How hard can it be to lure players to Winnipeg?

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I've got some good news and some bad news.

The good news is free agency begins today and your local football team is flush with cash and cap room. The bad news is it's hard to get players to sign here in Winnipeg these days... or is it?

In case you haven't heard, the word coming out of camp Blue and Gold is it's difficult to get players to come here and sign. The exact verbiage, according to the quote picked up by Free Press reporter Tim Campbell, was it's "certainly not a secret that Winnipeg in the last few years hasn't had the greatest reputation as a destination due to the way the team was run, due to the record, all that sort of stuff."

Point taken. The franchise just tied the record for fewest wins in a season, they haven't been to the playoffs since 2011, Ottawa already has a better roster, it is stupid cold outside and the media have been punting this team around the city for years now. They also just flushed the front office and there are freshmen at head coach, GM, and CEO. What is a struggling football franchise to do?

Ignore history and pretend the team has never had its share of difficulties, I suppose.

Turns out there have been bad years before, and somehow, some way, players have still signed on the dotted line. Take 2006, for example. 2005 was one of the worst seasons this club has ever seen.

They won five games and lost 13, they missed the playoffs, and they fired then-head coach Jim Daley, who had only been in charge for a year and a half. Sound familiar?

That football team had been on a four-year slide, progressively getting worse each season, and the team went out and made things harder for itself by hiring a first-time head coach by the name of Mike O'Shea... I mean, Doug Berry.

Things were not looking very good in Bomber land, and the team was sure to have difficulty getting anybody to sign with them. Except, of course, for Ron Warner, who had just come off five seasons in the NFL. Oh, and Barrin Simpson too, who was in his prime at middle linebacker and still had three more divisional all-star berths and two more all-Canadian awards to pick up. Heck, even the most beloved football coach in the last decade and a half, Richard Harris, joined this motley crew in 2006, despite the fact Winnipeg was floundering and it was, well, Winnipeg.

Players like Milt Stegall and Charlie Roberts, two CFL hall of famers and two of the best to have played their respective positions in Canada, never got a chance to play in the $200-million stadium the team now has.

Yet year after year, contract after contract, those two re-signed to play in an eroding stadium with limited facilities, infrastructure and technology.

They could have played for any team in the league outside of the one that hadn't won a title since 1990, yet they kept coming back for more.

Charlie never really worked out or got hurt, so I suppose he wouldn't have had much use for the gym and cutting-edge technology the team is saddled with now.

But Milt Stegall probably could have squeezed a few more seasons out of his old bones if he had a hot tub the size of a playground with a treadmill at the bottom of it -- as they currently do, but I digress.

Who are we kidding though? All this talk about obstacles to signing professional athletes in Manitoba and we haven't even addressed the seven-ton elephant in the room: the weather! How is this football club supposed to go about being competitive signing players when the forecast high this week is -10 C?

Just because for five of the six months the players are here for the season, the weather is absolutely glorious, doesn't mean they won't be concerned with how cold it is when they go home.

While there may be some interesting names out there on the free-agent docket today, guys like Josh Bourke, Kory Sheets and Shea Emry, to name but a few, it sounds like we will be lucky if we can get any of them.

After all, I don't think any of us understand just how hard it is to get good players to come to Winnipeg these days.


Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.

Twitter: @DougBrown97

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2014 0

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