REGINA - Wherever he was on Sunday, you can bet Paul LaPolice was smiling and keeping his wife away from her Twitter account.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Joe Mack fired the head coach last weekend, and instead of his team getting an emotional boost from interim boss Tim Burke, it took a huge step back on Sunday in the biggest game of the regular season.
Embarrassing doesn’t even begin to describe Winnipeg’s 52-0 loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 50th Labour Day Classic before a sold-out crowd of 33,427 spectators at Mosaic Stadium. They were chanting “Bombers suck! Bombers suck!” with four minutes to go in the game, and that was being awfully kind.
“Guys can’t get down on each other, regardless of if the score’s 42-0 or 7-0,” cornerback Jovon Johnson said in a locker-room that had too much chatter in it after a 52-0 loss. “We can’t just go out there and just let them continue to do whatever they want to do. You gotta have some pride. You gotta build some pride and defend yourself. And we didn’t do none of that today.”
It was a blowout of historic proportions. It was the first time Winnipeg was shut out in a game since Edmonton blanked them 33-0 on July 29, 1969 — or nine days after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. It was Winnipeg’s worst LDC loss since getting obliterated 56-4 on Sept. 3, 1995. And it tied with that game for the fourth-worst loss in franchise history when it comes to loss margin.
Aren’t you glad you spent all that money to come watch your team play, Bomber fans? And for the record, a few members of the offensive line were having quite the chuckle on the sidelines late in the fourth quarter.
The Bombers fell to 2-7, and they are four points out of a playoff spot because the Riders and Calgary Stampeders are tied for third in the West with eight points, putting them in crossover position. The Riders snapped a five-game losing streak and improved to 4-5.
The Bombers host the Riders next Sunday at Canad Inns Stadium in the ninth annual Banjo Bowl.
Mack said last weekend the players cared and there was enough talent on the roster, but neither was present on a sun-soaked Sunday in Saskatchewan. Chalk it up to just another miscalculation in a tenure full of them for Mr. Mack. Not helping Mack’s cause was the fun all the former Bombers were having for the Riders, including Brendon LaBatte, Odell Willis, Joe Lobendahn and Terence Jeffers-Harris.
The young Bombers had no chance against the Riders, who looked like the B.C. Lions and Montreal Alouettes rolled into one. Mack cited discipline as an issue in LaPolice’s firing, yet the Blue and Gold continued to take bad penalties on Sunday, racking up 12 infractions that totalled 101 yards.
Even worse, the only spark shown by the Bombers was a bit of face-to-face trash talk just before the anthem. Simply put, it was a pitiful display as Winnipeg lost its eighth straight Labour Day Classic and fell to 18-32 in the annual grudge match against their Prairie neighbours.
The Bombers mustered 102 yards of total offence, including 96 through the air, and managed only 10 first downs. They wrapped themselves in glory late in the contest when the Riders recovered back-to-back kickoffs — and they weren’t onside attempts.
The team didn’t make Mack available to speak to the media after the game to account for his team’s horrible performance after his decision to fire LaPolice, but he addressed the team afterwards and said he feels they have the talent to win.
“He said he still believes in the guys in here,” veteran slotback Terrence Edwards said. “It doesn’t matter what the score was. He was very embarrassed, but he believes in the guys in here.
“I don’t think he’s going to make any wholesale changes. I don’t think you need to. It’s directly on the players. It’s not a lack of talent. It’s just a lack of execution.”
The fact it’s still on the players this deep into the season signifies just how much Mack misfired last off-season. He let a raft of talent walk out the door and didn’t replace it. Everyone except for those inside the walls at the Bomber offices could see this team’s struggles coming.
So why couldn’t Mack?
It’s a question that will only get louder if the losses keep piling up.
The worst setbacks in Winnipeg Blue Bomber history, by score margin:
Pts Opponent Date Score
61 at Edmonton Nov. 10, 1996 68-7*
54 at Edmonton Sept. 15, 1995 64-10
53 at Toronto Oct. 8, 1967 53-0
52 at Sask Sept. 2, 2012 52-0
52 at Sask Sept. 3, 1995 56-4
50 at Hamilton Sept. 18, 1999 65-15
48 at Shreveport Aug. 5, 1995 65-17
* West Division semifinal——
TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Riders slotback Weston Dressler caught a pair of touchdown tosses from Darian Durant in the first half and finished with four grabs for 52 yards. Honourable mention to running back Kory Sheets, who had 19 carries for 106 yards on the ground.
TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Riders linebacker Tyron Brackenridge had three tackles, an interception of Joey Elliott he returned 39 yards, a pass knockdown and a fumble recovery for the winners.
TOP SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER
Saskatchewan’s Sandro DeAngelis, who was out of football for a while, went five-for-five in the field goal department. DeAngelis is now 9-for-11 since joining the Riders a few weeks ago.
SMACK OF THE MATCH
The final score.
Former Bomber slotback Terrence Jeffers-Harris, who revelled in last week’s firing of Paul LaPolice on his Twitter account, caught a pass over the middle and streaked down the sideline for a 43-yard touchdown on the final play of the third quarter that put the hosts up 42-0.
The jokes here write themselves. Take your pick between Sunday’s coin flip, the moment the Bombers hopped the plane to Regina on Saturday morning or Jan. 22, 2010, when the Winnipeg Football Club hired Joe Mack to be its general manager.