Blue Bomber Report Record: 3–15–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Time for Bombers to break the habit

Improve the cycle of short-lived success

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The 2012 Winnipeg football club has a stepping stone in front of it that has not been broached in over a decade. It is a small milestone along the path of a championship road that must be realized in order to erase the longest-standing drought in Canadian football.

Like many columns I have written over the past decade, the genesis for this piece comes from recent interactions with Winnipeg Blue Bomber fans. Since my official retirement of just over a month ago, my conversations are now seemingly always predicated on two premises: "How could you retire on the eve of the franchise moving into a brand-new facility that will be the envy of the CFL?" and "How can you hang them up when the team is so well positioned for another run at a Grey Cup?"

Since my entire body of work as a footballer took place at Canad Inns Stadium, it was appropriate, among other reasons, that we both be closed out in approximately the same time frame. The second question, however, made me reflect on what has historically befallen all of the teams I have played on in the season following a Grey Cup berth, and how the 2012 football team has the opportunity to change what has become a longstanding culture of regression.

If you look at the big picture of what has hindered this football club in the new millennium, it has been the inability to be consistent over multiple seasons. For the last 12 years, there have essentially been five different regimes that came with five different head coaches. Each one of these coaches -- or at least those coaches in charge for more than one season -- made a degree of improvement from their first to second years, but never in their third, and never the year after a Grey Cup appearance.

Dave Ritchie went from a very mediocre 7-10-1 in 2000 to a record-breaking 2001 and an upset loss in the Grey Cup. In 2006, Doug Berry posted a .500 record (9-9) in his inaugural season and followed it up with a 10-7-1 season and another Grey Cup loss, primarily because of a broken arm to Kevin Glenn. And thus far in Paul LaPolice's tenure, after breaking a record in 2010 for close losses with a 4-14 slate he led his team to a 10-8 mark and a Grey Cup defeat to the Lions in B.C. in 2011. Unfortunately though, this is where all of these relative success stories, thus far, have come to a screeching halt.

After 2001, Ritchie's team fell from a 14-4 record to a 12-6 season and a loss to the Eskimos in the Western final. Still a very respectable year, but a drop off from the previous season and the start of a slide that would eventually cost him his job.

Berry struggled in 2008, dropping under .500 with an 8-10 record and a first-round exit in the playoffs and was subsequently fired thereafter.

If there has been an underlying reason as to why five different coaches have been shuffled in and out of Winnipeg over the last 12 years, it has been the inability to consistently improve the football team and sustain it for the longer term.

Which brings us to 2012, mere months away from kicking off the 100th Grey Cup season in the CFL, and no better time to break this habit. This roster is not top heavy with older veterans and should still have its best football in front of it. Whereas the teams in 2001 and 2007 were either at their peak or a little past their prime, this team assembled by GM Joe Mack and company is both light on its feet in terms of age and has a wealth of experience. As the players continue to improve and benefit from the relative continuity of both personnel and coaching staff, this may finally be the year where the Blue and Gold's ascension to the top of the heap is not short-lived.

Success with this football franchise should no longer be measured in spurts and inconsistent trips to championship games. It should be defined by consistent results, steady improvement and solidifying a spot in contention at the top of the Eastern division for more than just a season or two.

A three-year stretch of betterment is something we haven't seen from this football team in over a decade. Once this is realized, the Grey Cups should take care of themselves and so will any regret for stepping away.


Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays in the Free Press.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 24, 2012 C4

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