For all the quirks -- and they're myriad -- of this 2014 Winnipeg Blue Bombers team, perhaps the quirkiest is that a team that plays in a new state-of-the-art football stadium in front of large and loud crowds has a better record on the road this season than they do at home.
The Bombers have a 3-1 record on the road this season and are just 2-2 at home heading into tonight's game against the Montreal Alouettes at Investors Group Field.
If that sounds familiar, it should. The Bombers also won more games on the road last year (two) than they did at home (one) in what was a disastrous inaugural season at IGF.
In fact, the Bombers have a woeful 3-10 record at home since they opened their sparkling new $210-million football palace on the campus of the University of Manitoba last year.
That, suffice to say, was not the plan when the big thinkers were drawing up this new stadium. Indeed, conventional wisdom at that time was that a club that has historically been very good at home -- Winnipeg has the third-highest winning percentage at home in the CFL) would be even better at home cooking if the team had a new stadium that included everything from a state-of-the-art training and weight room to the enhanced revenue streams that free up more money to invest in things like enlarged coaching staffs.
Throw in a funky stadium roof design that was a pain to build but which does an amazing job at capturing the cheering of Bombers fans and bouncing it right back at the opposing quarterback on the field and you'd think Winnipeg would be the place visiting teams would be going there to die the last season and a half.
But it hasn't worked out that way. Consider: the two losses at home this season are already as many as the Bombers had at home in the entire 1993 and 1994 seasons, combined.
With one more loss at home this season, the current edition of the Bombers will have as many home losses as they did in the 1992, 1993 and 1994 seasons combined.
Now, some context is in order here. First, yes this team was hopeless at home last season, but they were also hopeless on the road in a 3-15 season. The 2013 Bombers were bad and the fact they won one more game on the road than at home probably isn't indicative of a trend.
Second, while the current Bombers have a two-game losing streak going at home, they quite easily could have won their last home game -- a squeaker lost to Saskatchewan on a late interception return for a TD -- in which case they'd be 3-1 at home and all would be good.
Still, you are what your record says you are. And it's not just the last two seasons that a Bombers franchise that once dominated opponents at home has struggled for traction. Even in 2011 -- the last year the Bombers played in the Grey Cup -- the club was a measly 5-4 at home, the same regular-season record as they posted on the road that year.
It's all a far cry from those heady days of the mid-1980s to the mid-'90s when there was no more feared place to play in the entire CFL than at old Winnipeg Stadium.
From 1984 to 1994 inclusive, the Bombers had a combined home record of 80-17, an almost unheard of winning percentage of .825.
Now, you could build a new stadium in Winnipeg every year for the next ten and not replicate that kind of run at home. That's just other-worldly stuff.
But ask around that fancy Bombers locker-room at IGF these days, and the players and coaches all agree not only should this team be better at home -- they have to be better at home if a Grey Cup drought that goes all the way back to 1990 is going to end.
"We definitely have to tighten up at home," slotback Nick Moore said this week. "That's first and foremost on every championship team -- you win at home. And then secondly, you have to be road warriors -- and that we have been for the most part. So we just have to pick it up at home and we should be all right."
Bombers offensive tackle Glenn January says his team also owes its loyal -- and long suffering -- fan base something more than they've been getting from the home team this year.
"For us to come out here and lose in front of our home crowd is unacceptable," says January. "They've done a fantastic job supporting us this year and it'd be good to pay it back with a win."
It's yet another quirk of this Bombers team that the club's only wins at home this season -- over Toronto in Week 1 and Ottawa in Week 2 -- also came in front of the smallest crowds of the year, 24,872 and 27,553, respectively.
In contrast, the two losses this season came in front of big crowds -- 30,976 for a Week 4 loss to Edmonton and a sellout of 33,234 for a Week 7 loss to Saskatchewan.
That's simply not good enough, Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea said this week. "We've got such a dedicated and loyal fan base -- we need to give them better results and give them something to cheer about."
Receiver Clarence Denmark insists it's coming.
"We've got it under control. We're coming here every day, working hard, we know what we need to do.
"The wins at home are going to come."
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