Good start, but there's a long way to go

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

Team president Lyle Bauer described it as "an early Christmas present," while head coach Jim Daley called it "a great start to our 2005 season."

You've got to hand it to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers: they may have trouble stringing together wins from July through November, but when it comes to the off-season, they're dynamite.

The local CFLers are off to a 2-0 start this winter after re-signing potential free agents Joe Fleming and Scott Regimbald to new deals.

To hear Fleming and Regimbald tell it -- they were flown in for the occasion from their homes near Boston and Houston, respectively -- you'd think they were re-upping with the defending Grey Cup champs.

"The commitment to win here is the biggest reason why I signed back," Fleming, the four-time CFL all-star, was saying yesterday. "To not go into free agency and sign now is something some players don't want to do. My goal, Scott's goal, this team's and this organization's is to win the Grey Cup."

Regimbald, the Montreal-born fullback, was no less pumped, saying he was "very excited about the direction we're going."

We interrupt this group hug for the following bulletin: The Winnipeg Blue Bombers haven't won a Grey Cup in 14 years -- a streak of futility surpassed only by the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

OK, I know what you're thinking: here he goes being negative again.

Hey, the facts are the facts, even if they get in the way of a good story.

And make no mistake, the return of Fleming and Regimbald is certainly a feel-good story, and a coup for Bomber GM Brendan Taman.

Actually, you can credit this double-deal largely to Daley, who, oddly enough, played the role of negotiator.

Taman, you see, had a history of striking out with Fleming, losing the defensive lineman when he was in B.C. and again following the 1999 season here, when Fleming bolted for Calgary.

"I told Jim, 'I don't want to be three times unlucky -- so you do it,' " Taman said.

So Daley approached the two players he worked with in Calgary for the better part of four years and convinced them good things are in store out here on the bald prairie.

And, apparently, he didn't have to open the community-owned vault to do it.

"There was very little attention paid to the money part. That was easy," Daley said. "I knew when we traded for these guys, that's what it would be. It's not just salary, and it's not just ego, me-me-me. It's team and Grey Cup. They are quality people with great skill."

Of course, they're also going to be well-paid, particularly Fleming, the CFL's top defensive player in '03, who'll continue to earn an estimated $160,000 to $170,000 per on what's likely a front-loaded, two-year deal.

Which raises the whole salary-cap issue again (if a D-lineman is worth that, what's your star running back worth?), but that's a rant for another time.

This deal does two things: it gives the Bomber D-line potentially the best tackle tandem in the CFL, in Fleming and 6-foot-7 Doug Brown -- the unstoppable force and the immovable object.

It should also end any debate about who won the trade that brought Fleming, Regimbald and safety Wes Lysack here and sent Khari Jones and fullback Randy Bowles to the Stampeders in September.

And, yeah, any time one of your best players re-signs rather than dips his toes in the free-agent waters, it's a good thing.

But if this all sounds vaguely familiar, it's probably because we heard similar warm-and-fuzzy sounds from the Bomber bunker last winter. Remember when Brown and Dave Mudge re-upped?

So call it a great start to the '05 season if you want.

But remember, nothing's changed yet from the end of '04.


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