Long journey begins

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

Through training camp and going into tonight's season-opener in Montreal, Blue Bomber head coach Doug Berry hasn't talked about the Grey Cup.

Even though the CFL championship is being played in River City this year, Berry hasn't said a word about it to his players.

And why would he?

The Bombers are coming off a 5-13 season, their second in a row out of the playoffs, and are being picked, almost universally, to finish last again in a leaner, meaner, eight-team CFL.

Of course, that wasn't the coach's line of thinking.

Berry simply says it's too soon to mention the big game.

It's in the back of his mind, though.

The way the rookie boss sees it, all he has to do is find a way to get his team into the playoffs. Doesn't matter if it's with seven, eight or nine wins -- whatever it takes.

If his underdogs -- an extreme CFL makeover if there ever was one, with a dozen different starters from a year ago -- can pull it off, that's when Berry will begin dangling the silver carrot.

"If we can make the playoffs, knowing it (the Cup) is going to be held here, there might be some hidden motivation, incentive, for the guys to try to do it," Berry told the Sun the other day. "Based on the fact that the last two years have been lean... maybe they'll start sniffing, and see if we can smell that Grey Cup out there."

It'd be quite a story, wouldn't it?

Only twice in the last 22 years has a team reached the championship game in its home town: Edmonton four years ago, the B.C. Lions in '94.

Takes Grey Cup week up to a whole different level, having the home team in it.

We just don't see it happening.

Oh, the Bombers are sure to be better than they were a year ago.

Trouble is, so is everybody else, after having picked the bones of the defunct Ottawa Renegades. And those who didn't need the Renegades to improve, well, they were pretty good to begin with.

This isn't a good year to transform an also-ran into a contender.

Not even the East Division, the Bombers' new home, has a habitual basement dweller to feast on.

There's not a team without a legitimate starting quarterback this season, either, thanks to Kerry Joseph's move from Ottawa to Saskatchewan and the trade of Jason Maas from Edmonton to Hamilton.

The team with the biggest question at the position? Berry's Bombers, whose starter, Kevin Glenn, has yet to prove he's a winner.

Same goes for the receiver position, where the Bombers are breaking in two rookies.

And the other teams, particularly in the East, are catching up with their ground games, Toronto adding NFLer Ricky Williams and Hamilton adding former Renegade Josh Ranek and former Rider Corey Holmes.

Parity appears to have arrived in the CFL. But it's parity that will probably keep the Bombers from gaining much ground.

"That could be," Berry said. "But... parity, that's why I think we've got a chance to play with everybody in this league. I'm not in awe of anybody. They may be better than us, but that doesn't mean I have to hold them in awe."

No, but he may be forced to look up at them in the standings.

This doesn't mean Berry isn't the right man for the job.

We just think it's going to take some time.

"I don't want to say that," Berry said. "I'm not saying that won't happen. But I don't anticipate that. I don't want that to happen. I don't want to predict it. I don't believe in it. I know we're not going to win every game. I'm a realist.

"But I also am a winner. And winners believe in winning."

What do we believe?

That the Bombers will win six or seven games this season and show some good signs.

But not enough to get a sniff of playing in the Grey Cup.


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