Cinderella story?

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

We begin today's tale by taking you back to Jim Daley's finest hour as a CFL head coach.

It was 1997, and his Saskatchewan Roughriders had been stumbling along with a 6-9 record, good for last place in the then four-team West Division.

Right about then you'd have faced some pretty long odds for a bet on the 'Riders reaching the Grey Cup, a place they'd been exactly once in the previous 20 years.

That's when the ridiculous began to happen.

Winning two of their last three games to finish 8-10, the 'Riders, led by quarterback Reggie Slack, pulled off back-to-back playoff upsets against the 10-8 Stampeders in Calgary and the 12-6 Eskimos in Edmonton.

Cinderella may have finally been defrocked against Doug Flutie and the Toronto Argonauts in the Grey Cup, but she certainly wore Green and White for a good portion of that memorable November.

Check in with Daley today, and you'll find him in charge of another 6-9 outfit, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who must win at least two of their last three games, including tonight's against Hamilton, or it's curtains on 2004.

No doubt, Bomber fans don't hold out much hope for a team that's fallen from official contender status this year. You get the impression everybody's just a little numb from what's been the most tumultuous season here since the Reinebold era, what with the departure of the long-time head coach and quarterback.

That doesn't mean a thing to Daley. He only has to get 40 people to believe.

And here's how he did it in Regina seven years ago.

"We were probably the most focused and, probably, overachieving team I've been associated with in a long time," Daley began. "The ability of our players and coaches to totally, totally focus, with tunnel vision, on one game at a time. That's why things like the playoff combinations, the crossover ... all those things are just there. Forget 'em."

Daley has been preaching the game-at-a-time mantra since he took over from Dave Ritchie.

That's why it was a little surprising to hear him utter these words early in the week: "We just need a six-game run."

Yesterday he explained, taking us inside his first address to the team this week, a meeting best described as a refocusing: in case anybody had forgotten, the goal is still the Grey Cup.

"Let's have no ambiguity about that," Daley said. "You want to sit around and dream about it, go ahead -- you're never going to get there. Just like if you sit around and dream about losses to B.C. and Montreal and fret over it ... I'm not going to fret over those two losses for one minute.

"I guess my starting point of the whole meeting that day was, if you're discouraged by that, you're in the wrong career. If you're disappointed by it, that's normal. Learn from it. I am adamant about that. You can't get discouraged by setbacks."

Next, Daley focused his players on the two steps it'll take to reach the Cup: a playoff berth, made possible by success for three weeks, beginning tonight.

"That's our regular season," Daley said. "The other point I made is we are 100% in control of our year."

With that, Daley hopes a team that's been all over the emotional map will discover a focus it hasn't had all year.

He pulled it off once, but can he do it again? Is there any way of knowing if his message got through?

"The only indication I can sense -- you can't spend time trying to analyse every guy, because you'd go frigging paranoid -- is how hard you play," Daley said. "And we've played hard."

He'll find out soon enough. We all will.

After all, Cinderellas are easy enough to recognize.

Evil stepsisters are, too.


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