Bomber pride on the line

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

REGINA -- The tattered remains of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had been scraped from the field in Regina Sunday night.

What was left of the team, some five tons of bruises, was being loaded onto a bus for Winnipeg, where families, friends and the inevitable questions would be waiting.

So why not get a head start, and ask one of the obvious ones.

Did this team, dismantled 39-12 by the Saskatchewan Roughriders, somehow go into the Labour Day Classic without a sense of urgency?

Could a team already on a three-game skid walk into their biggest rival's backyard and blow it off as just another day at the office?

"You're (expletive) right," offensive lineman Mike Abou-Mechrek said, spitting the words out like rotten tobacco juice. "Maybe getting off to a 5-2 start made our heads swell a little bit. We better have a sense of urgency now."

It's mind-boggling, really, that this team may still have been living off that surprising start to the season. Imagine, a complacent team -- on a three-game losing streak.

Watching the Blue get manhandled at virtually every position Sunday didn't leave room for many other possibilities.

Maybe having Kevin Glenn and Milt Stegall back in the lineup after a three-game absence caused players to think it'd be easy. Just flick the switch, and we'll be back to what we used to be.

Or maybe hanging around in third place in the CFL East is good enough for these guys. After all, most observers didn't even expect them to do that.

The thing is, first-year head coach Doug Berry has far higher expectations, and he was supposed to have instilled them in his players by now.

We can only conclude that football players have something in common with horses: you can lead them to water, but you can't make them drink.

We're about to find out how good a horse-trainer Berry is.

Because when the TV lights and microphones were gone Sunday night, the Bomber field boss made it clear he'd be cracking the whip over their heads this week.

Berry obviously saw the lack of urgency, too. And he sees his team's favourable playoff position slipping away.

So he's going to deviate from the usual approach. You know, the one where a coach doesn't put too much emphasis on any single game.

The typical thinking is every game should be equally important. Typical thinking is out the window now.

The Roughriders are coming to town for much more than a rematch. They're coming to show us all what this Blue Bomber team is really made of.

If they sweep here, you can sweep the Bombers into the also-ran pile right now.

"We've gotta come back next week and play a good football game -- that's imperative," Berry began. "Next week's going to be very important for us.

"I usually don't push big games onto our guys. But I'm telling 'em next week's a big game. They can't all be. But that one is."

Not only for the standings. Not only for prairie bragging rights, or the Banjo Bowl title, which is nothing more than a marketing department creation, anyway.

Fortitude to stand up

This is about finding out if a team has the fortitude to stand up after being knocked down.

It's the football version of exploratory surgery: does the patient have something minor, or something incurable?

Is there such a thing as Bomber pride?

It may sound hokey, but it's what fans in this town demand, above all else.

A team that really cares.

Because what we saw in Regina Sunday looked an awful lot like one that doesn't.


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