Bombers lift off in '06

KIRK PENTON, STAFF REPORTER

, Last Updated: 1:03 PM ET

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers' stock went up in 2006, and expectations are it will be on the rise again in 2007.

New head coach Doug Berry had a successful rookie season, general manager Brendan Taman lured top free agent Barrin Simpson to the Manitoba capital, and the Winnipeg Football Club staged a successful Grey Cup game and festival.

Here's a closer look at the Bombers in 2006:

PRE-SEASON

- The first big news of the year occurred in February, when the Bombers somehow signed free-agent linebacker Barrin Simpson and had him in Winnipeg for a press conference on Feb. 16 -- just a few hours after free agency began.

Regardless, landing the former B.C. Lion was hailed as one of Taman's greatest acquisitions in years.

- The Bombers moved from the West to the East Division on April 9, when CFL commissioner Tom Wright announced the Ottawa Renegades were suspending operations. The Bombers received $700,000 from the other seven clubs for their trouble.

- The Bombers scooped up Obby Khan and Val St. Germain in the first round of the Renegades dispersal draft and then pulled a fast one a week later, claiming safety Kyries Hebert off waivers five minutes before he would have become a free agent.

It took nearly three months of negotiations -- and a last-minute trip to the Canadian consulate in Los Angeles -- before Hebert finally reported to the team on July 9.

- Running back Charles Roberts was in the news before he even reported to training camp, requesting a trade when the Bombers signed suspended NFL tailback Onterrio Smith.

"If that is the direction they want to go in ... they should make him the man and trade me up out of there," Roberts told the Sun in May.

Despite missing the first two days of training camp due because of his wedding, Roberts showed up and, after hiding in the bathroom for 10 minutes to avoid reporters, said he had changed his mind; he wanted to play

- Smith showed up to rookie training camp about 25 pounds overweight and then injured his foot on the first day of main camp. He got cut on June 10 after rushing for seven yards on two carries -- and fumbling once -- in the final pre-season game against Montreal. Roberts surely was smiling on the inside.

REGULAR SEASON

Buoyed by a much-improved defence under co-ordinator Greg Marshall, the Blue and Gold shot out of the gate with a 5-2 record. Taman got a contract extension out of it, and fans were dreaming of a first-place finish in the East Division and a home playoff date.

Then the team hit a speed bump. In August, slotback Milt Stegall suffered cracked ribs and quarterback Kevin Glenn underwent arthroscopic knee surgery, and the team lost four straight to fall to 5-6.

The Bombers got back on the winning track in mid-September with a win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the third annual Banjo Bowl, but they got blown out again, 43-9 in Calgary on a snowy September night at McMahon Stadium

The roller-coaster ride continued for the rest of the regular season, and the Bombers finished third in the East with a 9-9 record.

That meant a trip to Rogers Centre and a date with the Toronto Argonauts in the East semifinal. The Bombers led 27-17 with eight minutes remaining, but a Roberts' fumble, two touchdown tosses by Toronto backup Michael Bishop and a Glenn interception in the final minutes resulted in a 31-27 loss.

"We're not the team that we need to be," Berry said in his post-game interview. "If we were, we'd have won this game."

Roberts won his second straight rushing title and was named the East Division's most outstanding player. Simpson, who led the league in tackles, was named the division's top defensive player, while defensive tackle Doug Brown was voted the loop's top Canadian.

None of the three, however, won his respective league-wide honour.

POST-SEASON

- With the CFL implementing its new salary cap on Nov. 20, the Bombers joined all teams in giving several players big signing bonuses before the Grey Cup. That money won't count against next year's cap of $4.05 million.

Some key signees included WR Derick Armstrong, OL Obby Khan, DT Doug Brown, DB Kelly Malveaux and CB Robert Bean.

- Star slotback Milt Stegall decided in early December that he will play one more year for the Blue and Gold. That will give him a chance to break the CFL touchdown record of 137, currently held by Mike Pringle and George Reed, and chase that elusive Grey Cup.

- Local media mogul David Asper wants to buy a piece of the Bombers, and his yet-to-be-released proposal may include a new stadium. Stay tuned for that debate in 2007.


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