Bombers at crossroads

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

Tonight's game between the Blue Bombers and Ottawa Renegades marks the halfway point of the CFL season, Game 9 of an 18-game odyssey.

But halfway to what?

Is there anybody out there who honestly knows where this thing is headed?

Will it be the kind of rebuilding year Bombers fans will want to forget, like 1999's 6-12 mark under first-year head coach Dave Ritchie?

That's the year a bunch of recycled vets got blown up more often than the Goodyear Blimp, losing eight games by at least 25 points.

Or will 2005, in retrospect, look more like the 2000 season, when a promising bunch of young Bombers went 7-10-1 and won their first playoff game in six years?

That season paved the way to a Grey Cup berth a year later.

Two rebuilding years, with vastly different feels to them. One provided hope, the other nearly put the franchise out of business.

On a lesser scale, you get the feeling tonight's game has an awful lot hanging on it, as far as the current season is concerned.

If it goes one way, there's still hope. If it goes the other, the Bombers might never get back in the playoff race.

Oh, not everyone is willing to admit that, and we don't really blame them.

There's enough pressure on players every week, without having the outcome of a season hanging over them.

Take quarterback Kevin Glenn, for instance, who was so flamboyant in a win over Hamilton a week ago, but who remains very conservative when assessing himself or his team.

"Added pressure? I don't even think twice about it," Glenn said yesterday. "We need every win."

The man with the critical job of calling plays for Glenn, offensive co-ordinator Mike Gibson, wasn't ready to declare this a season-turning game, either.

"It's just the next game," Gibson said. "When you put them all together, 18 weeks down the road, then you can look back and say maybe this was a turning point, or that was a turning point. But it's way too early."

Head coach Jim Daley, of all people, came closer to acknowledging what's at stake.

"Our guys know the importance of this game," Daley said. "The benefits, if we're successful, speak for themselves."

When you're 2-6, there isn't much time left to turn things around.

Another loss now will erase everything good that came out of last week's win over Hamilton. Let's face it, you only get so much confidence from stomping a team that was 0-6.

Beat one that's 5-3, and now you're talking.

Kicker Troy Westwood was, too. Talking, that is, about the significance of tonight's outcome.

As usual, he wasn't shy.

"This game, specifically, is going to go a long way to defining our season," Westwood said. "We'll see just how far we've come. Ottawa's obviously a very good team. And to lose this game would be a major step back for us. If we win this game, we put ourselves in very good contention to give a good run for the playoffs."

He may not have nailed many field goal tries lately, but I'd say Old Lefty nailed that one.

This is a guy who doesn't need any added pressure, not the way he's been playing. A guy who admits he was pretty shaken after another bad game against the Ticats.

He doesn't hide from that, either.

"I was really devastated after last week's game," Westwood said. "It took me a couple of days to recover and rebound, mentally, from it. I'm just trying to fight my way out of it. I feel once I get going, I'm going to catch on fire."

How about his team -- could it catch fire?

Maybe.

That was certainly a spark last week.

Tonight, the Bombers will either nurture that spark, or pour a bucket of water on it.

And they'll be halfway to something, either way.


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