January 21, 2020

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Bold predictions for a Bombers win on Sunday

Opinion

CALGARY – You heard it here first: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will beat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sunday and capture the Grey Cup, ending a 28-year championship drought for the long-suffering franchise and its fragile fan base.

Unless they don't – in which case you didn't hear anything. You might want to get those ears checked.

I kid, of course. And will be the first to admit that I'm veering into "Hot Take" territory by making such a bold claim. And no, I can't see into the future, nor do I have psychic abilities. If so, you can be darn sure I'd be using that power for something more productive than predicting the outcome of a football game.

Call it a hunch. Call it a gut feeling. But there's just something about this year's Bombers club that leaves me feeling like their work isn't done just yet, and that this is all going to end with an epic celebration on the field at McMahon Stadium, plus another one back home at Portage & Main.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers had a hard road to the Grey Cup, knocking off the defending champion Calgary Stampeders in Calgary and the top team in the West Division, the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina last week.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JEFF MCINTOSH

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers had a hard road to the Grey Cup, knocking off the defending champion Calgary Stampeders in Calgary and the top team in the West Division, the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina last week.

It's not going to be easy. Very little is for the Bombers, which seems to be how they like it. These talented Tabbies aren't afraid to show their teeth, and their 15-3 regular-season record was tops in the land and suggests they are the CFL's cream of the crop.

But I'm not so convinced.

For starters, their road to the Grey Cup hasn't been filled with as many obstacles as Winnipeg's. Hamilton played in the inferior East Division, beating up on 98-pound weaklings in Toronto and Ottawa. Those two teams were a combined 7-29, and Hamilton went a perfect 5-0 against the not-so-dynamic duo. The combined score was 177-78, meaning the average margin of victory was 20 points. Men vs boys, really.

Throw in a pair of close wins against 5-13 British Columbia, and three more against 8-10 Edmonton (including the East Final at home last Sunday), and Hamilton filled their boots against the bottom feeders, going 10-0 against all the sub .500 teams.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats defeated the Edmonton Eskimos in the East Final to get to the Grey Cup.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/FRANK GUNN

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats defeated the Edmonton Eskimos in the East Final to get to the Grey Cup.

In other words, a bit of a paper tiger. Sure, you can only play the schedule you're given. But let's hold off on the coronation, shall we.

Hamilton's record against the four other teams in the league with a winning record was a more modest 6-3. They split their two-game series with Calgary and Saskatchewan, took two of three from Montreal, and beat the Bombers both times they met – 23-15 at home in late July, and a 33-13 laugher in late September at IG Field.

But those results, along with a couple bucks, will get you a cup of coffee. As in, they're worth very little, if anything. This is a much different Winnipeg club now, one that is playing with a sense of purpose and determination. Some might even call them a team of destiny, given how this up-and-down year has played out.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea says he wouldn't change anything about the way this season has unfolded for his club.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/NATHAN DENETTE

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O'Shea says he wouldn't change anything about the way this season has unfolded for his club.

They survived the Wild Wild West by winning a pair of playoff games in hostile territory – a rout in Calgary followed by a squeaker in Saskatchewan – to reach the promised land for the first time since 2011.

And they did it with much of the same core that came up painfully short of the ultimate goal a year ago, which only appears to have strengthened their resolve and focus.

Bombers coach Mike O'Shea told me earlier in the week he wouldn't change a thing about how this season played out, and why would he? Sure, things got a bit ugly there for a while, after a 5-0 start gave way to a stretch in which they won just five of their next 12 games. That was during the time starting quarterback Matt Nichols went down for the year with injury, running back Andrew Harris was busted for PEDs and the wheels seemed to be coming off.

But then along came Zach Collaros, the calm, cool veteran with plenty to prove who quickly got things pointed in the right direction. Three straight wins, all under his skillful guidance, have followed. And the possibility of a fourth straight to end the year doesn't seem so far-fetched, does it?

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros is the true wildcard, giving the Bombers the advantage at the position.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/NATHAN DENETTE

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros is the true wildcard, giving the Bombers the advantage at the position.

Collaros is the true wildcard here, and he gives the Bombers the advantage at the most critical position in the game, with apologies to Dane Evans, who took over the No. 1 spot when Jeremiah Masoli went down for the year in that first game against Winnipeg.

Evans is capable, sure. But he's no Bo Levi Mitchell, or even Cody Fajardo, who the Bombers have sent packing the past two weeks. Will Sunday's spotlight prove to be too bright for the second-year pro, especially with what should be a heavy pro-Winnipeg crowd at McMahon Stadium wanting to see him fall flat on his face.

Throw in a highly-motivated Harris looking to prove the haters wrong and bring a trophy back to his hometown, and some contributions on the ground from backup quarterback Chris Streveler, and this is a Winnipeg team which can now beat you in a number of ways.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Dane Evans took over the starting job when No. 1 pivot Jeremiah Masoli was injured for the season.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/FRANK GUNN

Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Dane Evans took over the starting job when No. 1 pivot Jeremiah Masoli was injured for the season.

Then there's Richie Hall's defence, which came through with its biggest performance of the season against the Roughriders, with a pair of clutch, goal-line stops in the final moments. They'll need to stand tall once again.

The Tiger-Cats have plenty of offensive weapons of their own, including Most Outstanding Player Brandon "Speedy" Banks at receiver, which makes for a pretty juicy match-up. They're certainly not going to roll over and play dead, and they're looking to snap their own Grey Cup drought, which dates back to 1999.

But I said a week ago in this space the only thing standing in Winnipeg's way is themselves, and I'm more convinced than ever at that and watching them survive the white-knuckler in Regina.

This veteran, battle-tested group isn't just happy to be here. There's a real Grey Cup-or-bust mentality, which should serve them well with the huge challenge that awaits.

So, yes, go ahead and start planning the parade. Winnipeg 24. Hamilton 20.

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.

Read full biography

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