With the Winnipeg Blue Bombers playing their last game of 2013 this afternoon at Investors Group Field, it's that time of year when your local newspaper would normally give you some retrospective variation on the well-worn "Good, Bad and Ugly" theme.
But the problem with Winnipeg limping into its final regular season game at 3-14 and in danger of equalling the franchise's all-time worst record for an 18-game season, there's not really a whole lot of "Good" to tell you about.
In any event, what little "Good" there was this season, you heard about earlier this week when the team announced its outstanding player awards. (Reminder: Will Ford occasionally runs back kickoffs for touchdowns; Glenn January was once again the best part of a middling offensive line; Ian Wild has a promising future in the CFL; and Henoc Muamba is really, really good.)
So with all the "Good" now dispensed with, how about we begin with the first annual -- and hopefully last annual -- "Bad, Badder and Baddest" of the 2013 Winnipeg Blue Bombers season.
The team on the field.
No surprise here. Unless you were expecting the performance of this sad-sack team on the field to be the Baddest part. I'm going to argue the opposite. As bad as the team was this season, the performance on the field was actually the least of the transgressions the Winnipeg Football Club inflicted on its fan base.
Which is not to let the team off the hook. On the contrary, this bunch has a reckoning coming that is going to look more like a horror flick than a typical off-season. Heads are going to roll like it's a John Carpenter movie.
The numbers tell the story:
-- Winnipeg has been outscored 548-354, a disparity of 194 points in 17 games -- by far the widest such margin in the CFL this season;
-- Of the 35 major offensive categories tracked by the CFL, Winnipeg is dead last in 15 of them heading into this weekend, including points scored, touchdowns scored, field goals scored, yards passing, net offence, first downs and fumbles.
-- The Bombers were better on defence than offence this season, but that isn't exactly saying much is it? Of the 25 major defensive categories the CFL tracks, Winnipeg was last in nine of them, including points allowed, first downs allowed, passes completed, percentage of passes completed and plays from scrimmage.
-- Winnipeg dressed three different starting quarterbacks in 2013 (always a bad sign) and set a franchise record for player turnover, dressing 76 different players through the first 17 weeks;
-- Another loss today would tie this edition of the Bombers with the 1998 team for the worst record in an 18-game season at 3-15.
The Bombers front office.
We're going to argue the Bombers front office is actually more condemnable than the play of the team, precisely because it was the dysfunctional and abysmal performance of the front office that assembled this bunch of sad-sacks.
Former GM Joe Mack elected to roll the dice before the season began on former QB Buck Pierce looking this year more like the Pierce that led Winnipeg to the Grey Cup in 2011 than the one who spent all his other seasons in Winnipeg hurt more often than not. That was a huge mistake and with no proven backup when Pierce went sour, it doomed the Bombers season before it even began.
The 2013 draft was a nightmare as just one of the Bombers draft picks, third-rounder Carl Fitzgerald, actually played this season, while the man Mack's own people urged him to take with Winnipeg's first pick -- safety Mike Edem -- is the Alouettes rookie of the year candidate.
On top of that, the single best thing about this 2013 team -- middle linebacker Henoc Muamba -- is about to become a free agent because the front office has been unable to get him to sign a contract extension despite having all season to convince him. And the one Muamba Mack did sign -- underachieving brother Cauchy -- wasn't even starting by year's end.
Mack was rightly fired mid-season, of course, and replaced on an acting basis by Kyle Walters, who seems destined to have his acting tag lifted soon, if for no other reason than the daunting logistics of everything Winnipeg needs to get done before an expansion draft in December almost precludes hiring anyone else. Suffice to say, that's not the preferred reason for hiring a GM -- because he's there.
The rollout of the new stadium.
Two things are absolute truisms:
1) You only get one chance to make a first impression. And...
2) First impressions are lasting ones.
We point this out because the Bombers had one chance to do the roll-out of their shiny new football palace right and they bungled it.
Let's leave aside the fact if ever you absolutely, positively did not want to field a historically bad team, it was this year. We've dealt with the culprits behind that.
But it wasn't Mack's fault the team had no effective plan to manage traffic to a stadium site with just two major routes in or out. Max Hall wasn't one who decided to acquiesce to the crowd who didn't want fans parking on nearby public streets. Walters didn't oversee design flaws ranging from an outdoor press box to no field access from the stands for concerts. Cost over-runs, bungled fan relations and, at season's end, a ticket price increase for 2014 -- none of that was on the team or the football operations people.
No, all of that was on the Bombers board of directors and their golden boy, Garth Buchko. All of it, that is, with the lone exception of the ticket-price increase, which goes on the man who replaced Buchko as CEO mid-season, Wade Miller.
The problem now, and the reason we're arguing the botched stadium rollout was the worst of all the things the Bombers did wrong in 2013, is it is also now going to be the toughest problem to fix.
The team will get better, if only because it couldn't get worse. A quarterback will be found, at any price.
The front office will get better, again if only because it couldn't get worse. More trades will be made, draft picks will actually play.
But convincing the record number of fans who bought tickets this year to spend their summer and fall again next year at the stadium -- for all its visual appeal -- will be akin to swimming up Niagara Falls.