Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Makings of a meltdown for Bombers

Registering some wins only way to avert pending disaster of a season

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IF you can believe it -- and given the club hasn't won a Grey Cup in 21 years, it shouldn't be that hard to swallow -- this is not the first time in recent history the Winnipeg Blue Bombers faced a possible nuclear meltdown.

Blue Bomber Jovan Johnson does his best Usain Bolt impression while fellow defensive back Johnny Sears looks on during the team's practice at Canad Inns Stadium on Tuesday.

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Blue Bomber Jovan Johnson does his best Usain Bolt impression while fellow defensive back Johnny Sears looks on during the team's practice at Canad Inns Stadium on Tuesday. (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ) Photo Store

With just one win against five losses and a thick cloud of doubt above Canad Inns Stadium, the last-place Bombers are nearing that critical stage of the season. A win against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Thursday night would not only move the club to within two points of a playoff spot, it would also be a welcome release of pressure for the organization as a whole.

A loss and who knows what comes next. Both players and staff might want to start wearing hazmat suits to work, as the pressure buildup would create cracks in the core and trigger emergency sirens -- if the red lights and loudspeakers aren't going off already.

"I just feel the pressure to win a football game, more so than anything else," Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice told reporters after Tuesday practice. "Winning cures a lot of things; losing magnifies things. That's the nature of most sports."

With 12 games to play, this season feels like it can go one of two ways for the Bombers: Up or radioactive.

Previous editions of Blue and Gold handled the season tipping point in different ways.

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Back in 2008, fresh off of a Grey Cup appearance, the Bombers started with a 1-5 record. In the seventh game, they had their doors blown off by Montreal, 39-11 at home, no less. Winnipeg went on to win seven of its next 11 games and hosted a playoff game.

Crisis avoided. How did they do it?

"Guys just went out played and didn't think so much of what the outcome would be," offered Jovon Johnson, one of five holdovers from that '08 squad (Terrence Edwards, Pierre-Luc Labbe, Chris Cvetkovic and Ian Logan are the others). "We just wanted to play and have some fun. It's hard to do, but the more fun you're having, that means you're having success, right?"

Edwards was an important part of the party planning committee that year.

"What I remember, especially from the receiving corps, is that we just decided to go out and have fun," he recalled. "We had a lot of different (touchdown) celebration dances that year, with Milt (Stegall), Derick (Armstrong), Romby (Bryant), and Arjei (Franklin). We just decided: If we're going to lose, we're going to have fun doing it."

Turns out the good times on the painted turf were quite contagious. Edwards said the interpretive touchdown dances brought a different energy to the sidelines and believes they helped take the edge off of everyone during games. Players couldn't wait to see what the receivers had planned next.

"It wasn't about showing the other team up or anything like that, it was self-motivation for us," said Edwards, who was one of three 1,000-yard receivers in that season, joining Bryant and Armstrong. "We wanted to get in there and have some fun."

Not all nosedives can be straightened out, though. In 2005, the Bombers dropped to 1-6 following a loss in Calgary. Rather than rally around each other, the team only managed four wins in its last 11 games and finished with a 5-13 record with no playoffs.

Head coach Jim Daley was fired after the season, replaced by Doug Berry. He was axed after three years at the helm (27-26-1 record) after the '08 year, making way for Mike Kelly in 2009; a move that made for a different, but still radioactive, kind of fun.

Who knows what the fallout will be this time .

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @wazoowazny

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2012 C3

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