Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/7/2017 (1002 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Matt Nichols saved his best play Friday night until after the game.
While the quarterback’s brutally frank self-assessment didn’t show up on the scoreboard in a humbling 29-10 Winnipeg Blue Bombers loss to the Calgary Stampeders, Nichols’ mea culpa in post-game interviews counted just the same and should give hope to any Bombers fan already feeling those "here we go again" shivers.
"I’m going to put this loss on me... I cost us big-time," he told reporters in the deathly silent bowels of Investors Group Field Friday night.
"The fans deserve better, my teammates deserve better and I will be better."
So what’s so great about a quarterback falling on his sword after a poor performance that saw Nichols throw two costly interceptions, one of which was returned for a back-breaking Calgary third-quarter touchdown and the other a red-zone pick that took Bombers points off the board?
Well, it’s because Nichols’ exercise in accountability Friday night offered such a striking contrast to the what was offered up post-game by his head coach, a man whose default setting appears to be denial.
I pointed out to Mike O’Shea during his post-game news conference that Friday’s loss was Winnipeg’s ninth in a row to Calgary at home and 17th in Winnipeg’s last 18 meetings overall against the Stampeders, numbers so lopsided they suggest a disparity between the two organizations that goes beyond personnel into the systemic realm.
Crazy talk, O’Shea assured me.
"This is a different team. I don’t know that they have our number," he said with a straight face.
Well, more of a smirk, really but that counts as a straight face for the sideline boss.
And then the coach offered up this revelation about his approach to his job. "I’m not interested in the historical data of whatever number in a row. I’m not interested in that. It’s 2017 — we’re a different team, they’re a different team."
Which might be OK, I suppose, but for one thing: those two different teams combined to produce the exact same result Friday night that they always do — a humiliating Winnipeg defeat.
O’Shea’s record against Calgary as Bombers head coach? It’s now 1-8, the lone win coming in Week 19 of the 2014 regular season in a game that was meaningless to both teams (Calgary had already locked up first, the Bombers were already eliminated) and was played in a blizzard.
The philosopher George Santayana is credited with the saying, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."
The problem with O’Shea, apparently, goes even deeper than that. Indeed, it’d actually be an improvement if the man simply could not remember the past. There are all kinds of online brain games that could help the guy work on his memory.
But O’Shea seems to want not so much to forget history as deny it even exists. And that’s a huge opportunity missed.
Because make no mistake, even in defeat after defeat there are tangible, valuable lessons for the Winnipeg Football Club to learn from a sample of this size.
Now, to be sure, there are ebbs and flows to any divisional rivalry in any sport and there will always be short-term blips that you can simply chalk up to the vagaries of sport.
But there are two indisputable conclusions to be drawn from going 1-17 in your last 18 games against a rival: you definitely have a problem; and you definitely need to fix it.
The problem with O’Shea — and we’ve seen this again and again from him on other issues as well, in his three-plus seasons here — is that he’s incapable of ever getting to No. 2 because he cannot get past No. 1.
There’s a pretty good reason the first step in a well-known recovery program is admitting that you have a problem; you can't fix something if you don't acknowledge that it's broken.
I followed up with O’Shea Friday night by suggesting that everything this Bombers regime has so painstakingly built since 2014 is on hold until the team figures out a way to beat the Stampeders, seeing as the road from the West Division to the Grey Cup seems to go through Calgary every year.
"I don’t know that this group of guys needs to prove anything to themselves about Calgary or beating Calgary," he replied. "I don’t think our guys are that weak that they need that."
The numbers on the scoreboard when time ran out Friday night at IGF — and the 17 games against Calgary before that — would seem to overwhelmingly suggest otherwise.
Remember the last guy who stood at the Bombers podium and indignantly denied he had "anything to prove"?
Former Bombers QB Drew Willy had that response to a question I posed to him just prior to the start of last season. Willy seemed genuinely appalled by my suggestion he might have something to prove after two injury-riddled losing seasons as the Bombers starting QB.
History proved otherwise and six games into last season, Willy was holding a clipboard on the sidelines and, by September, he was traded. At last report, Willy was listed as the No. 4 guy in Montreal and clinging to his professional football career by a thread.
But no, nothing to prove.
Is it any wonder O’Shea loved Willy so much and continued to cling to him as his starter long after it had become clear he was Winnipeg’s problem, rather than its solution?
All of which brings us back to Nichols, who would appear to be some glorious hybrid of the anti-O’Shea and anti-Willy.
Nichols not only didn’t hesitate Friday night to admit he had a problem, he went on at length and in micro-detail about exactly what the problem was.
The problem on that pick-six? Nichols saw Calgary linebacker Maleki Harris move up to the line of scrimmage, but didn't see him quickly drop back into coverage until it was too late and Harris was on his way to the Winnipeg end zone.
You got the sense listening to an agonized Nichols describe that interception Friday night that while he might make many, many more mistakes as the guy at the controls, he will never make that particular one again.
And there’s hope in that for fans alarmed by what they saw out of such a promising team in such a lopsided early season loss: the quarterback acknowledged he made a mistake, he held himself fully accountable for it and he vowed to learn from it, moving forward.
Now, if only the rest of the Bombers franchise — and, especially, the head coach — could do the same.
Winnipeg has a Calgary problem. If Mike O’Shea genuinely cannot see that, he is blind. And the Bombers are doomed.
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.