THE Blue Bombers took the practice field in thick sweatpants on Tuesday, and some left in tuques and bundled clothes, proof against the gathering cold.
For some players, these are the last days they'll ever feel the chill of a Canadian November. This frustrating season is almost over and all that's left for the Bombers is to host the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Saturday.
Quarterback Max Hall will get another shot in the saddle. Some of the late-season acquisitions will get to show their stuff. And then the Bombers will pack up and go their separate ways.
Some won't be back. Not to the Bombers and maybe not to the CFL, a fact Bombers head coach Tim Burke didn't leave unsaid in practice.
"What I told 'em today, this is the last week we'll be together," Burke said.
"There'll be changes of some kind, whether it's one person or half the team and all the coaching staff. Who knows what it'll be? Somebody in that room is gonna be playing for Ottawa next year. Maybe two or three, who knows. Some guys, this will be the last game they'll ever play in their life. So this is a chance for us to go out together as a team... and play our hearts out."
In other words: it's show-or-go time. Burke may be among the casualties of the off-season -- "I'd like to be back, I'll say that, but it's not up to me," he said -- but until then, he has acting GM Kyle Walters' ear. And into that ear he has poured blunt thoughts on who should stay and who should go, not that he'd name names on Tuesday. There's a handful, he said, not just one or two.
"Some guys surprise you more that they don't have the heart, don't have the competitive spirit that they need to have," Burke said.
This week is where that will show the most, with so little on the line. On Saturday, the Bombers battle only for a shred of pride, a chance to not tie their 1998 record for worst-ever 18-game campaign at 3-15. Some guys have shown they've checked out, Burke said, and they won't play on Saturday. There are too many younger players they want to take a longer look at.
That's what the final week comes down to, then: a chance to fan the embers in the ashes. Consider Wallace Miles, who laboured patiently on the practice roster all season. He went out against the Argonauts last week and had himself a game, snatching six passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. Through the game, the 24-year-old slotback felt a wave of support from his teammates.
"They've seen me work all year, they've seen me put in extra time," he said.
Miles came to Winnipeg last season thinking it was a place where a slotback could build a career. Maybe it would be easy to get discouraged after this year, but here's a twist: Miles knows what it's like to lose. In 2010, his North Carolina A&T Aggies lost every tilt but one; in the four years he was there, they won only 14 games out of 45.
Yet, in that time, Miles earned himself the Aggies' all-time receptions record, and was the school's first single-season 1,000-yard receiver.
"You still had to find it in yourself to come out every week, and work hard in practice, and play well in the games," he said. "My dad told me, 'Take it one day at a time,' and I take it a step further and take it one play at a time."
For Miles, who is under contract with the Bombers for next year, this last week is bittersweet. He still stresses the hopeful part: hopefully, he said, he'll get to come back. Hopefully, he's one of the guys who has earned another chance and can help this team rebound. He thinks there are enough bright spots for the 2014 Bombers to build around.
"We just aren't cohesive enough," he said. "One person made a great play, but somebody else made a mistake. We just got to pull it together."