No more hiding

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:08 AM ET

After two years of hiding in your basements, wearing paper bags and generally cringing whenever the topic of football comes up, Winnipeg Blue Bomber fans take heart.

It's safe to come out into the sunshine again.

Dare we say it, you can even pull those musty blue and gold jerseys out without being deluged by ridicule.

Because your football team is tied for first place in the CFL East. That is not a typo.

For the first time since the end of the 2003 season -- 32 months ago, for crying out loud -- the Bombers have a winning record.

It's only 2-1, and there's still a ton of pig to be pitched, but based on what we saw Canada Day, the days of this team being the national punching bag are over.

Winnipeg 46, Edmonton 10. Do not adjust your sets.

This wasn't one of those cautious, neutral-zone-trap wins over a team quarterbacked by Spergon Wynn.

This was no less than the defending Grey Cup champs in town, led by the CFL's 76% passer, Ricky Ray, and a fleet of receivers that routinely leaves defensive backs quivering in their cleats.

By the end of this one, Ray, when he was upright, was sputtering like a dirt bike on one cylinder, the Bomber defenders were strutting like peacocks and the champs had been reduced to chumps.

Led by a wide open offence that scored its first three passing touchdowns of the season and a bend-but-don't-break defence, Winnipeg spotted the Esks the first touchdown, then went on a 46-3 binge.

Obviously enjoying the sight of someone else's blood for a change, the Bombers didn't let up until the final minute.

By then, Ray was on the bench.

And all those questions about Bomber starter Kevin Glenn's ability to kick it up a notch? Chef Emeril couldn't have done it better.

Touchdown passes of 30, 79 and 54 yards, the first two to Chris Brazzell, the final one to Milt Stegall, and 368 yards through the air -- with nary an interception -- should quiet the critics, this one included.

And when the Esks defence raised its guard to protect its bloodied face, running back Charles Roberts hit 'em in the gut for 95 yards.

Even backup quarterback Mike Quinn got in on the fun, lobbing his first touchdown pass to cap the rout. Talk about piling on.

For Glenn and the offence, this was a revelation.

For the Bomber defence, more of an affirmation.

Don't let the 399 passing yards it gave up fool you. Yes, there were breakdowns. And nobody managed to cover Esks receiver Derrell Mitchell before he got hurt.

But this group protected its own goal-line like a 65-yard vein of pure gold, stopping the Esks within two yards of it, twice, when the game was still on the line.

"We were a little insulted they even got that far," safety Ron Ockimey said.

Facing a third and one against Winnipeg's front seven? You better think twice.

"I was yelling over at (Esks coach Danny) Maciocia to go for it," lineman Doug Brown recalled.

Understandably, Maciocia had another take on the carnage.

"We have to remove our heads from up our asses," he barked.

Yes, the visitors were very un-Eskimo-like.

But punishing receivers, pile-driving running backs and harassing quarterbacks seem to be the themes of the Winnipeg defence in '06, making it hard to believe any of these guys were here last year.

The only downer on the night: there were just 23,521 witnesses on hand.

Thanks to another quiet decision to lift the TV blackout (there's a pet peeve of mine), the folks in cottage country got to see what the rest of the country did: that the Bombers might have something to do with the playoff race this season.

Other than watching it, that is.


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