A storied Rivalry
There is no denying the history between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. There is an intrinsic rivalry and sense of pride at stake for us prairie neighbours, which has only been heightened as the years have gone along.
Troy Westwood’s now infamous comment about Saskatchewan fans being “banjo-picking inbreds.” That occurred back in 2004, which helped spark the first annual Banjo Bowl that same year.
Multiple players have switched sides, such as Kevin Glenn (traded to Winnipeg in 2004), Glenn January (signed by Winnipeg in 2009), Barrin Simpson (signed by Saskatchewan in 2010), and Brendon LaBatte (signed by Saskatchewan in 2012).
Over the past 80-plus years, the Blue Bomber organization has historically trumped Saskatchewan in a number of categories.
For example, the Bombers have the third most Grey Cup wins with 10, while Saskatchewan’s three is the least amount of any CFL team. Since 1936, Winnipeg has an all-time record of 128-99-4 against Saskatchewan, and also holds the record for the largest shutout in CFL history – a 56-0 drubbing in 1986 against none other than the Roughriders.
While these are interesting facts, the last decade’s worth of head-to-head matchups between the two teams have gone entirely in Saskatchewan’s favour. Each of the past 10 Labour Day Classics have ended with a Roughrider victory, as well as five of the last seven Banjo Bowl contests.
Since the Banjo Bowl’s inception, the Roughriders have missed the playoffs just once. Winnipeg has only made it to the post-season four times over the same span. Saskatchewan has also captured two Grey Cups (2007, 2013) while Winnipeg’s drought carries all the way back to 1990.
Looking over the results of the past 10 seasons against Saskatchewan, as well as the Bombers’ statistics this year specifically, there are a few red flags which pop up immediately and have hindered the Bombers’ chances at success.
The first area of concern is turnovers. Winnipeg has committed 34 of them over the last 10 Labour Day Classics. This problematic statistic can be the difference between a win or a loss, especially since 4 of the matchups have been decided by 14 points or less.
Diagnosing the concerns
Pinpointing this year, the other glaring issue is the amount of sacks Winnipeg has given up. Heading into Sunday’s game, they had given up a league-worst 35, which is not ideal, considering Saskatchewan boasts the CFL’s sack leader, John Chick – who recorded three in the first meeting between the two teams on Aug. 7. Overall through the first two matchups between the teams this year, Saskatchewan has recorded nine sacks – which is far too many.
Saskatchewan has already taken two of the three games against the Bombers this season, and now that Winnipeg has returned to the West division, the two teams’ matchups become even more critical in terms of potential playoff positioning.
Bomber head coach Mike O’Shea fully understands this fact, and gave his personal thoughts on what may be separating the two teams just prior to the 11th running of the Banjo Bowl this past Sunday.
“The first game, a couple more turnovers than we would’ve liked to have. This game [Labour Day Classic on Aug. 31] we gave up a couple big plays, and didn’t make a couple big plays, and I believe that’s the difference,” said O’Shea.
“They’re two pretty tight games. If you look at a couple sequences of plays go the other way, you guys [the media] might be writing a different story.”
Sunday’s result was much of the same, as Winnipeg kept things close late into the fourth quarter, but a costly Drew Willy interception in Saskatchewan territory ended any chance of a comeback.
If Winnipeg expects to make a run for the playoffs this season, they need to get over the hump, and prove that they can end their losing woes against their cross-province rivals.