Tickets, anyone?

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

TORONTO -- Grey Cup tickets for sale. You might even get a deal on them.

Because the dream -- or should that be fantasy? -- of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers playing in their hometown Grey Cup was left in pieces on the turf in the CFL's East semifinal yesterday.

As many reasons as the Bombers gave us to doubt them this season, nobody could have seen this coming.

Then again, perhaps it was the most logical way for it to end: with a maddeningly inconsistent effort that had you scratching your head one minute, thinking they could win the East the next, then writing their obituary -- all in the space of three hours.

It was the Toronto Argonauts 31, Winnipeg 27, but the scoreboard didn't tell the whole story. Not even close.

Leading by 10 midway through the fourth quarter, the Bombers should have been booking their flights to Montreal.

Especially when they looked at the Toronto huddle and saw backup quarterback Michael Bishop in the game for Damon Allen.

What happened next was either a total fluke or the biggest Winnipeg gag job since the 2001 Grey Cup.

"That's going to go down as one of the all-time greatest Winnipeg Blue Bomber chokes," defensive lineman Doug Brown said. "Because we had that signed, sealed and delivered. Up by 10, with seven minutes left in the game? And the way our defence was playing. Two inopportune miscues, and all of a sudden the floodgates opened. And we just couldn't respond, at all.

"We just choked, big-time. There's no other way I can spin it."

Brown's assessment was easily the harshest in a stunned Bomber locker-room.

It's hard to argue with it, though.

This should have been over the moment the Argos put Bishop in. He wasn't going to win it for Toronto any more than Brad Banks was going to win it for Winnipeg.

Neither team had a backup quarterback all season, that much we'd learned.

Bishop's first reaction to being told he was going into the game says it all.

"You're kidding," he told Argos GM Adam Rita.

Here's a guy who'd completed five passes all season, and thrown just one in his illustrious playoff career.

And this is the game's turning point?

"It's unbelievable," Brown said. "That just does not happen. There's a reason why you get after a quarterback -- to get their backup in. It was wrapped up. They put the bow on for us."

Problem is, the Bombers took that bow, wrapped it around their necks -- and yanked.

Bishop must have thought he was back in the Arena League, the touchdowns came so fast.

Three passes, three completions, 110 yards and two touchdowns. All in 1:45.

Meanwhile, the Bomber offence was giving the ball away on a fumble by its best player, running back Charles Roberts, and a late interception by quarterback Kevin Glenn that snuffed out a final, desperation drive.

The stingy play by the defence in the first half -- all for naught.

The brilliant throws by Glenn and acrobatic catches by Derick Armstrong and Chris Brazzell in the third quarter -- wasted.

The courageous running by Roberts -- a footnote.

And another spectacular Milt Stegall season -- down the drain.

Call it a choke. A great effort. A fluke.

Maybe it was a bit of all three.

Either way, it leaves the Bombers, who, through all their ups and downs this year showed some promise and brought playoff football back to Winnipeg, in the same lonely place.

"We'll be at home next week," Stegall said. "That's where we are."

Getting ready to ignore the Grey Cup.

Tickets, anyone?


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