GUELPH, ONT. -- They have been the free space on Winnipeg's bingo card for the past two seasons.
The question now is whether the Hamilton Ticats will be the Blue Bombers' whipping boys for a third year in a row in 2013.
Seven times since 2011, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats have faced each other. And six of those times, it was the Bombers who came out on top.
Winnipeg went a perfect 4-0 against Hamilton in 2011 -- registering three wins in the regular season and one more in the East final. And then the Bombers were 2-1 against the Ticats in 2012.
'What happened in the past is not relevant to what we're trying to do now. I could care less about previous records'
-- Kent Austin
Better than one-third of Winnipeg's combined 17 victories over the past two years have come at the expense of the patsies that have been the Ticats.
Little wonder new Ticats head coach Kent Austin wanted nothing to do with that conversation when the disparity was raised Wednesday as the Ticats and Bombers prepare to face each other for the first time in 2013 tonight in the final pre-season game for both clubs.
"I don't care," said Austin, breaking into a derisive laugh. "What happened in the past is not relevant to what we're trying to do now. I could care less about previous records."
The Bombers actually had a 6-0 run going against the Ticats until Hamilton finally figured out a way to beat Winnipeg Oct. 27 in what was the final game ever at Ivor Wynne Stadium.
It's understandable, of course, that Austin would like to bury that skeleton deep and dark as he tries to set a new tone for a Hamilton franchise that will move into a new stadium in 2014.
Taking over as Ticats head coach and GM this season after the one-year debacle that was George Cortez, Austin's task is to put together a team that is something more than QB Henry Burris airing it out to every corner of the field.
Burris threw for 43 TDs in 2012 -- fifth on the all-time single season CFL list -- but it meant nothing as a truly horrendous Ticats defence let down the side and Hamilton finished the regular season with the same anemic 6-12 record as the sad-sack Bombers.
For all of Burris's aerial heroics, they actually ended up drafting first this year, having been awarded last place overall by virtue of their losing record against Winnipeg in the regular season.
So what is it about the Bombers that has made them such a bane of Hamilton's recent existence? Hamilton offensive line mainstay Marwan Hage said it's just a statistical blip.
"I think we've actually always played well against Winnipeg," says Hage, who is heading into his 10th CFL season. "You're pulling the last two years. You pull the last four years, it might be different."
It is, actually. The Bombers hold a much narrower 8-6 edge in games between the teams going back through the 2009 season. Of course, given that Winnipeg teams have missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, even that head-to-head record isn't exactly anything to brag about in southern Ontario.
While Austin revamped Hamilton's defensive personnel in the off-season -- Cortez's defensive co-ordinator Casey Creehan is now doing that job in Winnipeg -- there remain big question marks on the Ticats defensive line and in the secondary.
It looks like the best part of the Ticats might once again this year be the now 38-year-old Burris.
"I feel great," Burris said. "I actually came in faster and stronger than I did last year. Last couple years, actually...
"This is a critical year for me. It's a year we're looking forward to with the new coaching staff. Everything they're bringing to the plate really has us excited around here."