How unlikely is it that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Edmonton Eskimos meeting at Investors Group Field Thursday night would be a Week 4 battle for first place between two still-unbeaten teams?
Well, consider this: The CFL put together a schedule last winter that gave the expansion Ottawa Redblacks what seemed to everyone at the time to be the easiest possible start to their inaugural season:
A bye in Week 1, followed by games against 2013 division cellar-dwellers Winnipeg and Edmonton in Weeks 2 and 3, respectively.
Yeah, how'd that work out for you, Henry Burris?
All of which is not to make fun of the likeable Redblacks QB, but rather to illustrate just how unlikely even those in the know thought a worst-to-first turnaround would be this year for two teams that were as bad as it got in the CFL last year.
And yet here we are tonight: a battle of 3-0 teams who will have combined for seven wins this season after tonight -- the same number they totalled in all of 2013.
The fact it's all happening in the same season the Bombers make their long-awaited return to the West Division makes the storyline of two old-time rivals renewing acquaintances in a big game all the more compelling.
And unexpected. Bombers offensive lineman Glenn January was asked following his club's light practice at IGF Wednesday if he anticipated tonight's game would be a battle for first place when he first pondered this year's CFL schedule.
"I don't think very many people did," January replied, "but it's just a testament to what both clubs have been able to accomplish in the off-season. I think we both decided that some serious change needed to be made and you're seeing that out on the field.
So whose turnaround has been more impressive? The Bombers going from 3-15 in 2013 to 3-0 today, or the Eskimos going from 4-14 last year to 3-0 today?
"Obviously ours," January said with a grin, before quickly pulling out the eraser for what surely would have been bulletin-board fodder in the Eskimos locker-room. "No, they're playing some good football right now and it should be a good test for us."
Fifth-year Bombers defender Johnny Sears was asked if he can recall a turnaround from season to season that has been as dramatic as the ones the Bombers and Eskimos are architects of right now.
Sears didn't have to go back far, pointing to the 2011 Bombers' run all the way to the Grey Cup game that followed a dreadful 4-14 season in 2010.
While much credit for the turnaround has gone to the wholesale personnel changes the club made on and off the field during the off-season, Sears said there is also a less tangible new vibe in the Bombers organization this year.
"I think it's just a change of a mindset," explained Sears. "It's sometimes, not always, just the players. It's a kind of aura and how the players feel that year on that team. And sometimes when you get a fresh start or just a fresh season, you get to come in and press the reset button.
"And I think for players, that's one of the biggest things that helps you turn it around no matter what happened in the past... You can feel it in the community, you can feel it in the fans and everything.
"And it just makes you want to come to work, it makes you want to get better... "
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RECORD MOMENTS IN BLUE BOMBERS VS. ESKIMOS HISTORY
Nov. 3, 1951 -- The Bombers and Eskimos combine for a playoff record 412 yards on the ground.
Aug. 30, 1972 -- Bombers running back Mack Herron returns a kickoff for a record 120 yards.
July 14, 1994 -- Bombers QB Matt Dunigan throws for a pro-football record 713 yards.
Nov. 10, 1996 -- The Eskimos throttle Winnipeg 68-7 in the West semifinal. The game set a record for most combined points in a playoff game (75); largest margin of victory in a playoff game (61); and most touchdowns by one team in a playoff game (9)
July 21, 2000 -- Bombers receiver Albert Johnson III records a league record 474 combined yards against the Eskimos -- 153 yards in receiving and 321 yards in returns.
July 30, 2004 -- Eskimos QB Jason Maas sets a CFL record with 22 consecutive pass completions and another record for completion percentage in a single game (at least 30 attempts) at 90 per cent (27-30). With 535 yards passing, Maas also comes within 20 yards of the Edmonton franchise single-game passing record set by Warren Moon in 1983.
THE LAST TIME THE BLUE BOMBERS AND ESKIMOS MET IN A BIG GAME:
In 2008, the 8-10 Bombers finished second in the East and hosted the 10-8 Eskimos, who finished fourth in the West but crossed over for a playoff spot.
The Eskimos won 29-21 to become the first-ever West Division team to win an East Division semifinal in what also proved to be the last game as a Bomber for both head coach Doug Berry and quarterback Kevin Glenn.
A VERY RARE MOMENT IN CFL HISTORY
CFL statistician Steve Daniel says tonight's game between the 3-0 Winnipeg Blue Bombers and 3-0 Edmonton Eskimos is the latest in a season these two teams have been unbeaten and met head to head since Aug. 24, 1961.
Here's a walk down memory lane:
- The 3-0 Eskimos played the 4-0 Bombers that day before a sellout crowd of 19,960 fans at Winnipeg Stadium.
- The starting QBs in that game were the legendary Jackie Parker for the Eskimos and Hal Ledyard for the Bombers, making a spot start in place of Kenny Ploen, The game included 10 future Hall of Fame players and two future Hall of Fame head coaches in Winnipeg's Bud Grant and Edmonton's Eagle Keys.
- The Eskimos won the game 35-20, but the Bombers went on to win the Grey Cup that year.
- Fast fact: The Bombers and Eskimos met in the West final eight times from 1952-60.