Hands up anybody out there who thought the Blue Bombers would be anywhere near the CFL penthouse today.
Winnipeg, which finished a pathetic 5-13 last season, plays host to the unbeaten Montreal Alouettes at Canad Inns Stadium tonight (6 p.m.) and the winner gets bragging rights as the Beasts of the East.
"It's exciting," Bomber defensive back Anthony Malbrough said yesterday. "It's a wonderful place to be in instead of fighting for your first win. Instead, we're playing for first place. Right now, you couldn't write a better script for us. We have a chance to take over the lead in the East Division and possibly tie for first in the whole league."
A victory would vault Winnipeg into sole possession of first in the East with a 4-1 record, dropping Montreal to 3-1.
"The thing about it, though, is that we're not trying to put all our coins in one barrel just for this one game," Malbrough added. "It's a big game but it's not a make-or-break-the-season for us.
"The thing is, you have to beat teams like this to get to the level where they're at. Right now, they're a level above us because we haven't proven anything. We're a good football team but we have to beat teams like this to be on the same level as them."
But even coming close is a far cry from where the Bombers finished last year.
"It's for first place in the East right now and that's one spot that Winnipeg hasn't been in the past couple years," said QB Kevin Glenn. "It's an important game because we're playing for first place in the East but the Grey Cup is won over the course of a season. When you get down to the Grey Cup, you probably won't remember who won in Week 5 or Week 4.
"We're using this as a measuring stick. This is a chance for us to go out and redeem ourselves (for losing to Montreal in Week 1) and show that we are capable of playing with the elite teams in the league."
And the Als do feel the Bombers breathing down their necks.
"Right now, we want to separate ourselves from them and winning this game would do that," said Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo. "They're playing with a lot of confidence. That's something that they're trying to build right now. So, we've got to make sure that we come out here and try to slow them down a bit."
Alouettes head coach Don Matthews, however, shrugged off the first-place showdown.
"First place is not an issue until late in the year," he said. "I've been in first place at this time of the year before and ended the season badly. So, we'll worry about first place in October. We won't really worry about it right now."
But the Bombers are determined to maintain their dominance on home turf this season.
"We're looking forward to this one," said Bomber linebacker Barrin Simpson. "We're in our backyard this time and, like I always say, it's a must-win situation at the house. You've got to win at home if you want to be a playoff team."
The Bombers, by the way, are three-point faves.
"They're undefeated and we're the favourites," said Bomber head coach Doug Berry. "I don't understand where it all comes from but it's a respect for the players for the way they've been playing in the first four games, and deservedly so."
But Bomber centre Obby Khan put it into perspective.
"It would be a big win but it doesn't matter how you start the season off, it matters how the season ends."