It's the darnedest thing.
The team is 3-9 and clinging to the most meagre of playoff aspirations. They've lost six of their last seven. They own an identical record to a team in another division that has already fired its general manager, been vilified in public, and universally deemed as an unqualified embarrassment.
Yet when the man most instrumental for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' season gone sideways prepares to face questions directly from fans who have been waiting 20 exasperating years for a championship, you get this:
"I'd like to give you a vote of confidence, coach," a nice man named Les pronounced on the Paul LaPolice radio show the other night. "I think you're going in the right direction. You guys are good."
Curiously, our man Les is not alone. Without question, the prevailing mood in Bomberville is decidedly gentle in a city where the local 12 win less than one game a month. They've lost games in almost every conceivable way, the latest a stunning 44-40 defeat to the Montreal Alouettes at home that almost obliterated any hope of securing a playoff berth in the East.
And LaPolice gets this from Caller No. 3: "Great game Friday!"
Great game? You guys are good? You're going in the right direction?
Tell me, please, where a 3-9 outfit is afforded this kind of grace? After all, Bombers fans can be brutally critical of their beloved team. In other years, with other incarnations, the Home Depot would be out of pitchforks.
Seriously, when can you last recall a Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach sheepishly try to explain why the faithful continue to be so uncharacteristically patient and forgiving despite having their emotions toyed with and ultimately crushed on a weekly basis? Asked about this unusual anomaly, LaPolice said: "I hate where we're at. We're here to win football games."
Let's be clear: The locals aren't over-the-Warren-Moon happy. LaPolice, in particular, is getting grief for calling plays gone horribly awry. Angst has been focused at various junctions of the season on whatever shortcoming is deemed responsible for the latest collapse.
These days, the dramatic loss to the Als -- the seventh outing the Bombers have dropped this season by seven points or less -- has fallen at the cleats of flag-happy officials. The fact that the Bombers had glorious opportunities to seal victory on both offence and defence has become secondary.
Still, if Custer had returned to do his weekly radio show after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, you wouldn't expect the first caller to say, "Great job, Colonel. I think you're going in the right direction."
So your humble agent decided to ask the Bombers' resident defensive tackle/grizzled veteran/radio host/newspaper columnist Doug Brown what gives. Because, you know, it's not often Brown gets to give his opinion on anything.
According to Mr. Brown, the dearth of angry mobs is more about a hope for the future than a collective unease for the present. For every disappointing result, there have been glimpses of a longterm foundation. For every mounting loss, there's been back alley brawls with the CFL's most elite opponents.
And say what you want about the Bombers, the birthday boy (are 36 candles a fire hazard?) noted, but they have met the main criteria of a customer-based sports industry: Providing quality entertainment.
Not circus freak entertainment, either, but a sense of professionally-supervised progress that might serve as the foundation to return once again to sustained respectability.
"There's a method," Brown concluded, "to the madness."
After all, how many times can a franchise continually adhere to the a) fire the coach, b) clean house, c) apply Band-Aids, d) panic, e) repeat game plan before realizing it's a fool's errand?
Apparently, the answer to that question can be found in the somewhat baffling and equally refreshing absence of torch-wielding fans headed for Maroons Road for their pound of flesh. Again.
It could be argued that it's a sorry state of the franchise when 3-9, regardless of the old college try, isn't enough to bring out the paper bags. Or the guillotine. Fair enough.
And it must be said that a day of reckoning is coming if anyone in the Bombers front office confuses this tolerance with acceptance. The line between votes of confidence and impeachment can be harrowingly thin.
Great game on Friday? Only if you didn't care who won.
You guys are good? That's either very generous, given the bottom line results, or very sad.
You're going in the right direction? The short answer is, what other direction is there? The Bombers are 3-9 and in last place.
It's the longer, more promising answer, however, that has so far kept the autumn sky from falling.
Welcome to Winnipeg, where hope still springs eternal, and Sitting Bull got all the calls.