Blue Bomber Report Record: 3–15–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Perfect likeness

2011 Bombers cut from same Blue and Gold cloth as 1990 Grey Cup champs

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Stop me if any of this sounds familiar:

A football team with an unbelievable defence but a so-so offence overcomes its own imbalances -- and the collected wisdom of the brain trust that passes for the sporting media in this country -- to finish first in the CFL East Division.

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Their quarterback is both lovable and tough-as-nails -- and the guys would go through walls for him -- but he puts up very modest numbers and could best be described as a blue-collar guy.

The defence is near the top of the league in many major categories and the secondary is phenomenal; the offence is near the bottom in many major categories but gets by on opportunism and a couple of big-play guys.

Basically, they're a lopsided team trying to prove that not only does defence win championships, if the defence is good enough it can almost single-handedly win a championship.

They host the East Division Final, despite having lost two of their final three regular-season games. The contest is played on frigid and frozen turf, it's a defensive struggle and they win the low-scoring game to advance to play the following weekend in the Grey Cup at BC Place in Vancouver.

They are big underdogs heading into the big game -- and not many are giving them much of a chance against a much more well-rounded opponent led by a talented young quarterback who puts up a lot of points on the scoreboard and has proven himself to be the most valuable player in the league.

So what's the party trick?

The trick, as most diehard Bomber fans know, is that everything you just read was a description of the 1990 Bombers team. And if all that strikes you as remarkably similar to the 2011 Bombers, you'd better hope that is true right through to Sunday night.

Because history has recorded that the rag-tag bunch that was the 1990 Bombers went into B.C. Place and hung a 50-11 shellacking around the neck of the Edmonton Eskimos and their quarterback Tracy Ham, stunning just about everyone in the process but themselves and the football diehards in this town.

Defensive back Rod Hill famously hoisted the Grey Cup at centre field at B.C. Place -- and to this day, that moment remains the last time a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers raised Earl Grey's trophy in triumph.

The parallels to that 1990 team and the one that advanced to this year's Grey Cup with a win over Hamilton at Canad Inns Stadium on Sunday could not be more striking. Substitute QB Tom Burgess for Buck Pierce. Substitute big-play guys Perry Tuttle and James Murphy for Clarence Denmark and Terrence Edwards. Robert Mimbs is Chris Garrett. Less Browne is Jonathan Hefney. Greg Battle, that year's outstanding defensive player, is Jovon Johnson, this year's outstanding defensive player nominee.

And while there are some who might balk at the mere suggestion, Mike Riley becomes Paul LaPolice. (And before you get all superior, consider this: Riley was named coach of the year in 1990 for his job with that squad -- and it says here that is precisely the same honour LaPolice is going to win for his job with this team.)

And so in a coming week of all kinds of compelling storylines, how about one last one to cap it all off Sunday night: a near photo-replica of that 1990 Winnipeg team raising the Grey Cup up to the dome at BC Place once again -- bookends of two Canadian football championships for Winnipeg, 21 years apart.

There are striking parallels between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers team that will play in BC Place this Sunday for the Grey Cup and the 1990 Bombers team that won Winnipeg its last Grey Cup in that same venue.

Here's a sampling:

--The outstanding defensive player of the year in 1990 was Bombers LB Greg Battle; this year, CB Jovon Johnson is nominated for the same award and will find out on Thursday if he wins.

--The Bombers opponent in 1990, the Edmonton Eskimos, were led by a quarterback, Tracy Ham, who had won the league's Most Outstanding Player award the year before; the Bombers opponent this year, the B.C. Lions, are led by a quarterback, Travis Lulay, who will almost certainly win the Most Outstanding Player award this year.

--The Bombers starting quarterback in 1990, Tom Burgess, had very uninspiring regular-season numbers, passing for just 3,658 yards and throwing more interceptions -- 27 -- than touchdowns -- 25; The Bombers starting quarterback this year, Buck Pierce, had very uninspiring regular-season numbers, passing for just 3,348 yards and throwing more interceptions -- 18 -- than touchdowns -- 14.

--The 1990 Bombers limped into the post-season, having lost two of their last three games; the 2011 Bombers limped into the post-season, having lost two of their last three games.


Here's a more precise statistical breakdown, with the league rankings in parentheses, illustrating just how much defence dominated over offence on both the 1990 and 2011 Bombers squads:

Category 1990 2011

Points For per game 26.2 (8th) 24.0 (5th)

Points Against per game 22.1 (1st) 24.0 (3rd)

Net offence for per game 363.6 (6th) 341.6 (5th)

Net offence against per game 334.8 (1st) 301.1 (1st)

Passing yards for per game 274.2 (6th) 249.7 (7th)

Passing yards against per game 257.6 (1st) 223.1 (1st)

Rushing yards for per game 107.6 (5th) 110.4 (4th)

Rushing yards against per game 104.6 (2nd) 101.2 (3rd)

Turnover ratio Plus-20 (1st) Plus-12 (2nd)

Turnovers forced 89 (1st) 54 (1st)

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 22, 2011 D1

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