Als have lost their swagger

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:59 AM ET

Is it me, or has the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' rivalry with the hated Montreal Alouettes lost much of the hate factor?

Yeah, I know it's only a preseason game on tap here, tonight, and those can be snoozers at the best of times.

Even so, the Als don't seem to bring the same aura with them they used to.

It wasn't long ago they'd swagger into town, not far removed from their last Grey Cup appearance, and immediately cause the sparks to fly.

If it wasn't head coach Don Matthews rubbing everybody the wrong way, it was the two GMs still feuding over something, or D-lineman Ed Philion trading barbs with his nemesis, Bomber kicker Troy Westwood.

But Matthews, Philion and Westwood have moved on, and Brendan Taman actually speaks to Jim Popp these days, leaving one to wonder just who will be the stirrer of this new pot?

It certainly won't be Bomber head coach Doug Berry.

Where Berry was once seen giving the one-fingered salute to his Alouettes counterpart (Matthews), he's now helping him learn the Canadian game.

Berry revealed this rather disturbing development yesterday, admitting, without the help of truth serum or a lie detector device, that he's provided Als boss Marc Trestman with advice going into his first year in the three-down game.

"I've given him my opinion on some things that he's asked," Berry said. "It doesn't really bother me. I would have appreciated the answer, had I asked him the question."

This carousing with the enemy occurred during off-season league functions, Berry said. At least it wasn't in public.

Entering Year 3 at the Bomber helm, Berry says the raw emotions of playing against his old team have subsided, to the point where -- take a deep breath here, Bomber fans -- playing Montreal is just another game.

"You enjoy beating your mentor, coaching against Don Matthews, who's such a great coach," Berry said. "That kind of wears off, the longer you get away from it. I don't know any of the coaches there, anymore. I barely know some of the players. It's a lot different today than when I first came here."

Of the players who've moved on, Philion is easily the most notorious.

Public Enemy No. 1 in these parts since his questionable hits on Bomber quarterback Khari Jones in the 2000 East Final, Philion remains close to the team as a commentator on Als radio broadcasts.

He says the rivalry the last year or two, one-finger salutes aside, has been nowhere near what it used to be.

"It wasn't even close to the same," Philion said. "It mellowed a bit. They had some characters on their team. To have what we did, you needed both teams to have that mixture."

Of course, one factor is the Als' removal as top dog in the CFL East. Winnipeg and Toronto are now fighting for the bone, with Montreal relegated to the role of pesky third-dog-in.

Wait a minute, says Bomber D-lineman Doug Brown: that pesky little mutt almost bit the Bombers on the ass in last year's East semifinal.

So as far as Brown's concerned, feelings haven't changed at all -- not down in the trench where he makes his living, anyway.

"It finished off pretty heated last year, too," Brown said. "They had that third-and-inches play that launched us, practically, into the Grey Cup.

"I've never had an easy game against Montreal, and I don't expect I ever will."

Maybe there's hope, yet.

Perhaps something, if not tonight then in their first regular-season meeting, will send the sparks flying again.

Maybe the next time Berry talks to Trestman, he'll give the guy some bad advice -- like to gamble on third-and-one, with a late lead.

"There's plenty of time for trickery," the Bomber boss said, a twinkle in his eye.


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