The Blue Bombers’ “magical” first season at Investors Group Field (IGF) is in the books. They finished the season with a record of 3-15, missed the playoffs, and will enter the off-season with more questions than answers.
The Bombers conceded the most points and scored the fewest. They didn’t win at home until September, and their future prospects look so bleak that the Ottawa RedBlacks would likely be considered favourites over the Bombers next season – and they’ve yet to draft their team.
Since firing the duo of Joe Mack and Garth Buchko on Aug. 9, the Bombers won two of twelve games – an unlikely victory over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Banjo Bowl and an equally rare road win against the Montreal Alouettes. The win over the Riders was the first and only home victory for the Bombers in their first season at Investors Group Field.
The Banjo Bowl victory was the lone highlight of the season. Unfortunately, the Bomber’s second win of the season was followed up by back-to-back losses to the equally miserable Edmonton Eskimos.
The team now prepares to transition back over to the West Division, after seven unpredictable seasons in the East. They join the aforementioned Eskimos—who continue to rebuild after trading away Ricky Ray for a kicker, a draft pick, and former Bomber QB Steven Jyles—and will likely spend the next few seasons struggling to claw out of last place while the Riders, B.C. Lions, and Calgary Stampeders continue to play top-notch football.
All things considered, the move out west could not have come at a worse time for the Blue Bombers. On the cusp of a potential overhaul of nearly every aspect of football operations, Kyle Walters, the acting general manager and director of Canadian Scouting, will have the difficult task of determining which players to protect in the Ottawa expansion draft.
He then must begin to build a team that can compete in a high-scoring West Division. The three playoff teams all averaged over 27 points per game this season; the Bombers averaged a league-low 20 points per game.
The Bombers need to create a new identity for the team. They obviously still have a wonderful new stadium as their home, despite their innumerable shortcomings on and off the field; they still managed to draw an announced attendance of 26,316 to a nothing game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats while the Jets simultaneously hosted the Chicago Blackhawks downtown.
The Bombers are near the bottom for every key stat in the league except for rushing yards against. Middle linebacker Henoc Muamba finished the season with 106 tackles, and was nominated for three CFL awards by the team, including most outstanding player of the year. The third-year non-import out of St. Francis Xavier would be the perfect cornerstone to build a defence around. Imports Alex Suber, Demond Washington, and Bryant Turner Jr. are but a few standout defenders on the Bomber roster who are worthy of protecting.
On the other side of the ball, things are bad. The offence is going to take a long time to get right, and head coach Tim Burke might not be the right man for that particular job.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers will have to make some big moves to keep butts in the seats at IGF. From top to bottom, the organization needs to go back to the basics, focus on doing the easy stuff right, and then slowly rebuild from there.
Graphic by Bradly Wohlgemuth