November 13, 2019

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Opinion

Blue and Gold cream of the CFL crop

Dominant start to season has Bombers on course to end 28-year Grey Cup drought

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods</p><p>Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Nic Demski (10), Lucky Whitehead (7) and Kenny Lawler (89) celebrate Whitehead's opening kickoff return touchdown during action against the Toronto Argonauts, in Winnipeg, Friday.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Nic Demski (10), Lucky Whitehead (7) and Kenny Lawler (89) celebrate Whitehead's opening kickoff return touchdown during action against the Toronto Argonauts, in Winnipeg, Friday.

No, they don’t hand out Grey Cups in mid-July. And it’s important to keep in mind who the opponent was Friday night at IG Field when determining just how much praise to dish out to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Regardless of the calendar or the schedule, there’s no doubt they are currently the cream of the CFL crop, setting the Blue and Gold standard and looking every bit like a team destined to snap a 28-year championship drought.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Andrew Harris celebrates his touchdown during first half CFL football action against the Toronto Argonauts.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JOHN WOODS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Andrew Harris celebrates his touchdown during first half CFL football action against the Toronto Argonauts.

After starting the 2019 campaign with wins over the B.C. Lions, Edmonton Eskimos and Ottawa Redblacks in which they were admittedly far from their best, the Bombers laid waste to an abysmal Toronto Argonauts squad that would be a candidate for relegation if the league allowed it. The 48-21 final flattered the visitors, who put up the bulk of their offence once their fate was clearly decided and Winnipeg was sitting back.

In the process, Winnipeg improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2003 and sent a very loud and clear statement to every other team in the land: catch us if you can.

This one appeared to be a colossal mismatch on paper, and it was even more lopsided once the action began on the field. It was men against boys. A windshield versus a bug. A cat playing with a ball of yarn.

And it was, for all intents and purposes, over in 15 seconds, when the human highlight reel that is Lucky Whitehead returned the opening kickoff 104 yards for a touchdown. Any thoughts the undefeated Bombers might take the winless Argonauts lightly were quickly put to rest as the most exciting player in the league darted and dashed his way to the end zone.

The big plays kept coming. Charles Nelson ran a punt back 81 yards to set up another score moments later, Matt Nichols hit Darvin Adams for a 38-yard TD strike, followed by a 67-yard catch-and-run play to Nic Demski to make it 28-0 Bombers before they’d even played 20 minutes.

You get the picture. Rinse and repeat. If this was a boxing match, Toronto’s corner man would have thrown in the towel.

With each passing week, it’s becoming more and more obvious that the only thing that can stop these talented Bombers is themselves. While many CFL rivals had their rosters undergo an extreme makeover during the off-season, it appears returning so many players, along with a few new talents sprinkled in, was a solid game plan.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Kenny Lawler gets hit by Toronto Argonauts' Ian Wild and fumbles the ball during the first half in Winnipeg, Friday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JOHN WOODS

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Kenny Lawler gets hit by Toronto Argonauts' Ian Wild and fumbles the ball during the first half in Winnipeg, Friday.

In this case, familiarity is breeding success. And a Winnipeg team that came up two wins short of its ultimate goal last season has returned with a collective chip on the shoulders this year, looking to prove any and all doubters wrong. So far, so good.

That’s not to suggest everything is perfect. They’re still prone to the odd boneheaded play, which they can get away with against inferior competition such as Toronto but could prove costly as the games get bigger and the spotlight brighter.

Kenny Lawler’s silly "look what I did" reaction after catching a pass from Nichols backfired Friday when he fumbled seconds later. A needless roughing-the-passer penalty taken by Marcus Sayles gave Toronto a fresh set of downs and good field position.

Then there was Nichols’ foolish refusal to give himself up on a run during last week’s game in Ottawa, which ended with him absorbing a big hit to the head that knocked him from the game. He ended up dodging a bullet and being healthy enough to start this week, but these are the types of self-inflicted wounds the Bombers will need to clean up in the coming weeks.

Nichols got banged up yet again midway through the third quarter Friday night and briefly left the game, although it was likely just a precaution given the score at the time. And it’s not the worst idea to keep backup Chris Streveler as sharp as possible, given Nichols’ penchant for putting himself in danger.

That said, there’s no question this team has all the talent necessary to make a long, successful run, even when they’re not at their best. And that includes having plenty of depth that should help cover any holes when the injury bug does bite.

When the Bombers decide to flex their muscles, as they did Friday night, it’s truly an impressive sight. Given the upcoming schedule, there’s a good chance the wins are going to keep piling up.

The Bombers weren’t content to just beat the Argonauts on the field Friday. They took them to the woodshed on social media, as well. And the brief Twitter "war" that erupted between the two clubs ended up being more entertaining than the one-sided game that followed.

Toronto took the first shot early in the day through their official team account, noting the forecast temperature of 23 C was going to be a "scorcher by Winnipeg standards."

Apparently those were fightin’ words to the folks behind the Bombers account, who suggested 23 C represented "a degree for every fan in the stands at BMO last week."

Zing!

Naturally, some followers didn’t take kindly to the exchange, which brought light to the well-documented attendance woes in the CFL’s biggest market.

"This Tweet is despicable. Someone needs to be fired," wrote one irate follower. "Low class Tweet. Disappointed Blue," said another.

"A healthy fan-base in the CFL creates a better league all around. Not sure the criticism of the Toronto Argos is helpful, necessary or appropriate. They are working hard to attract fans. Winnipeg Blue Bombers show more class. Maybe think twice before putting a post like that out there," said a third.

Mike Hogan, the Argonauts play-by-play voice and communications manager, then Tweeted a grainy video of Bigfoot with the caption "we found footage of something almost as rare as a Bomber Grey Cup victory. Almost."

Double zing!

Yes, Toronto does have 17 championships to Winnipeg’s 10, with their most recent win coming just two years ago, while the Bombers haven’t sipped from the silver chalice since 1990.

But given what we saw unfold Friday night, Winnipeg appears much closer to their 11th than Toronto does to their 18th.

Of course, the Bombers are ultimately going to be judged by what happens in November, and much can obviously change between now and then. But on a glorious summer night in Winnipeg, where the home team scored early and often, you can’t fault anyone from wondering just where this might all be headed.

 

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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Updated on Friday, July 12, 2019 at 11:27 PM CDT: Updates photo.

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