You can't blame the fans. And Brandon Stewart didn't.
Contrary to what you might have been hearing Saturday as corners of the Twitterverse called for Stewart's head, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers cornerback told me very specifically at Investors Group Field Friday night that he didn't blame Bombers fans one bit for their fourth-quarter cheering of Buck Pierce and the B.C. Lions offence.
"They're frustrated -- just like us -- and so I can't be mad or hard on them," Stewart said in the Bombers locker-room following Friday's 53-17 throttling at the hands of the Lions.
"That's something new to me when your own fans are cheering for the other team. And that to me was more disappointing than the loss because our crowd has fuelled us for a lot of games.
"But do I blame the fans? No, I don't blame them. How could I?"
That is a much more nuanced explanation of Stewart's views on the matter than to simply report he said he was "sickened" by the fans cheering for Pierce and the Lions, as many media did Friday night.
Yeah, Stewart was sickened -- I was too and I'm not supposed to have a dog in this fight.
But I've lived most my life in this city and every Winnipegger worth his tuque and parka should have been sickened by the sight and sound of the fans at Investors Group Field cheering Pierce and the Lions offence as they drove deep into Bombers territory in the fourth quarter.
And let's be clear -- while the entry of the longtime former starting QB of the Bombers into the game for the Lions was certainly the catalyst for that cheering, what I heard Friday night was cheering that extended beyond Pierce and to the entirety of the Lions offence.
Indeed, my take Friday night was that Bomber Nation was cheering for B.C. to inflict exactly the same kind of pain and disappointment and punishment on this Bombers team that this Bombers team has been inflicting upon them for far, far too many years now.
And so in that sense, I think you could argue those cheers for B.C. were also very much jeers for a Bombers team that has shown itself entirely unworthy this season of the loyal fan base who have supported it through the debacle that is this franchise's inaugural season in their new stadium.
In a season in which every week seems to bring a new low, Friday's roll-over-and-die at the feet of the Lions was not only scraping the bottom of the barrel, it was picking up the barrel and getting down and dirty with the maggots underneath.
And the players knew it. Almost without exception -- and this includes Stewart as well -- the Winnipeg players I spoke to Friday used some variation of the word "embarrassment" to describe an effort so anemic and incompetent and futile as to not be worthy of the uniform.
Yeah, they were sickened. And embarrassed. And humiliated.
And you know what? Good.
Because if there is any hope remaining of at least preventing this season from getting any worse -- and I'm not sure there is, especially with a road game looming next week at a stadium in Calgary where the Bombers haven't won in 11 years -- the only thing that will arrest this skid is the simple pride of the men wearing the Bombers uniform.
It's become crystal clear that some players have simply checked out already. But there are more -- and I'm told Stewart, behind closed locker-room doors, is at the top of this list -- who still care deeply and for whom the losses in this 2-11 season are cutting.
That group needs to isolate the first group and take charge. Are they going to turn this season around? No -- the last three weeks have made clear no matter how lousy the Montreal Alouettes continue to play, this Bombers team is about to miss the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years.
But what Bombers fans have a right to expect for their hard-earned dollar is a team that goes down fighting to its final breath. This town loves its underdogs and has shown -- out of long necessity, as much as anything else -- they will cheer a loser.
But they're not going to care if the team doesn't care, which is how it appeared Friday night. And if this team won't give them something to cheer about, they've now demonstrated that they'll find another one that does.
Even if that means the opponent.