For the first time in 10 years, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have finished first in their division. This afforded the team a bye into the East Final and home field advantage.
While most fans are thrilled with the regular season result, the modest crowd that showed up at the newly renovated airport on Nov. 6 to welcome the best team from the East division home, illustrates the very cautious optimism surrounding the Bombers’ Grey Cup aspiration.
The curbed enthusiasm is also directly correlated to the team’s record down the stretch — after starting the season 7-1, the Bombers stumbled through the remainder of their season, winning 3-7.
Despite their record in the second half, the Bombers remained around the top of the East Division standings all season long. A dramatic 26-25 victory over the Montreal Alouettes at home in week 17 gave the Bombers a fantastic opportunity to clinch first place during the last two weeks of the regular season with a win against either the Toronto Argonauts or the Calgary Stampeders.
Instead, the team gave up 24 points in the first half of each game and failed to muster enough second half points to win. Fortunately, Montreal could not take advantage of the faltering Bombers, so by virtue of winning the season series the Bombers squeaked out the first round bye.
Now, with the East semi-finals in the books, the Bombers know that they will be taking on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who came into Montreal and walked out victorious after a 52-44 overtime slugfest.
The Bombers practised indoors at the Winnipeg Indoor Soccer Complex on the University of Manitoba’s campus on Nov. 10. After practice, I had an opportunity to talk with offensive left tackle Glenn January. January spent the entire 2010 regular season watching from the sidelines after he tore a pectoral muscle in the pre-season, but has become a crucial part of the 2011 Bomber offensive line since his return.
I asked him what helped turnthe 2010 Bombers, who had a 4-14 record, into a championship contender.
“We had a lot of experiences last year which helped mould us into the team we are now,” said January. “One of our biggest setbacks last year was our inability to finish, and I feel that we have definitely figured out how to come out and play in the second half and get the job done.”
“I feel that that’s paid significant dividends as far as our position this year.”
January said that it didn’t matter which team they faced in the East Final, but it must be — at least slightly — comforting to know that they will be playing the Ti-cats. The Bombers swept the Ti-Cats in all three of their matchups this season.
In each one of those Bomber victories, the Bombers defense has taken a Kevin Glenn interception back to the house for a touchdown. With Hamilton coming off of a huge emotional win on the road, the Bombers defence will need to be at the top of their game once again if the Bombers are going to travel to Vancouver to play in the Grey Cup on Nov. 27.
With the way the offence has struggled during the second half of the season, pitching in with some points on the scoreboard wouldn’t hurt either.
January commented on the team’s inconsistent performances throughout the season.
“We were able to overcome some adversity, but some of it got to us as the season progressed,” January explained. “Part of being a young team is you have a hard time keeping the foot on the pedal.” Though January said he has confidence that this has been addressed going into the finals.
“We understand what needs to get done and we understand how to fix our past problems.”
Securing an extra week off this late in the season should help the Bombers prepare for their penultimate game on the CFL schedule. The extra time off should give injured players, such as Buck Pierce, Greg Carr, Ian Logan and Kito Poblah, a chance to heal in time for the biggest game of the 2011 Bomber season thus far.