Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New-look Blue thrill fans

Effort and results in opener should convince more customers to show

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The empty seats -- and there were a record number of them at Investors Group Field Thursday night -- screamed of a Winnipeg Blue Bombers fan base that has adopted a "wait and see" attitude to this 2014 CFL season.

After just one spectacular regular-season game, it's hard to imagine what more Bombers fans could be waiting for. Or what else this new-look Bombers team could show them.

The Bombers stunned just about everyone in Canada -- with the notable exception of themselves -- with a 45-21 dismantling of a Toronto Argonauts team that according to the oddsmakers was the one expected to do the dismantling on this opening night.

If real change was what Bombers fans wanted to see this year before once again plunking down their hard-earned dollars on this team, then change is what they got -- all of it good.

The Bombers stunned just about everyone in Canada -- with the notable exception of themselves

The 24 points the Bombers scored in the first half alone were more than they scored in all but six games last year in a disastrous 3-15 season.

And if there were any questions still remaining about whether Drew Willy was ready to make the move from backup quarterback in Saskatchewan to a CFL starter in Winnipeg, they were resolved emphatically in just the first two quarters, as Willy shredded a pretty good Argos defence, completing 12 of 18 passes for 246 yards and three TDs.

As spectacular as those numbers were, they actually didn't do justice to just how good Willy looked in the first half. Willy's three first-half touchdown passes -- two to Aaron Kelly and one to Cory Watson -- were thrown with a pinpoint precision fans have not seen from a Bombers quarterback in a very long time, dropped in a moving bucket downfield in such a way that they were catchable by only the player wearing Blue and Gold.

And it wasn't just Willy and the Bombers receiving corps -- Kelly especially -- who looked good. This was exactly the kind of team effort that's also been a rarity in these parts in recent seasons, when even on the rare nights the Bombers defence would perform, the offence would let down the cause. Or vice versa.

Not this time, not this team. The Bombers won the line of scrimmage, in both directions. They won the turnover battle. They won the penalty battle -- decisively on a night a very well-coached Argos squad showed a stunning lack of discipline in taking, get this, 20 penalties.

And the Bombers defence accomplished one of the most difficult tasks in all of Canadian football -- they made Argos QB Ricky Ray and his not inconsiderable array of targets look very ordinary.

The 150 yards of offence the Argos registered in the first half was one-half of the 297 yards Winnipeg registered. And they looked ridiculous doing it, resorting to a series of flashcards on the sidelines to signal plays to the Toronto offence.

If the idea of the cards was to disguise the Argos' signals and/or to thwart the debut of defensive co-ordinator Gary Etcheverry's very unconventional Bombers defence, it failed. Miserably.

And when, for a few fleeting moments in the third quarter, it seemed like the Argos might have had some designs on a comeback, it was the Bombers defence that rose to the occasion again, forcing a fumble that defensive back Demond Washington picked up and ran 37 yards into the Toronto end zone to put the game away for good at 38-14.

The 24,872 fans who made the trip to IGF last night was the smallest crowd yet to see a game at the new stadium. But they were sold on what they saw, rising to their feet after the Watson touchdown in the first half in one loud, long and unequivocal standing ovation of approval that was a year in the making.

The question now -- and it's a big one, given the new mortgage bill this club faces this year -- is whether the fans who stayed home Thursday night will also now buy back in.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press

Tailgaters kick back with some burgers before the Winnipeg Blue Bombers home opener football game Thursday. From left, Cory Rach, Pat Mulville, Kurt Kowalchuk and six-year-old Brady Rach get the grill going.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 27, 2014 C3

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