Room for optimism

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 2:54 PM ET

So I was planning to write something positive about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this week, how maybe they could repeat the unlikely Grey Cup run of the 1988 Bombers.

You remember the gang of '88, how it lost its last three games of the regular season to finish 9-9, and lost just about every fan it had -- just 12,210 showed up for the East semi-final against Hamilton.

The Bombers not only won that one, they went into Toronto and beat the 14-4 Argos, then the B.C. Lions in the championship game.

This team could face a similar road in this year's playoffs. Or a much easier one.

If Winnipeg, at 9-7-1, wins tonight and the Argos lose in Saskatchewan tomorrow, the Bombers regain first place and get a bye into the East Final.

So not all is lost, despite a late-season slide that's produced four losses in six weeks and no small amount of hand-wringing in River City.

Of course, all this flies in the face of my new nickname, Mr. Pessimistic, as determined by receiver Milt Stegall last week.

It also goes against what I'm hearing on the street.

I paid a visit to my favourite hardware store the other day, where the owner -- I'll just call him Hank -- is a big-time Bomber watcher, a season-ticket holder, the whole bit.

And what he saw on his small, rabbit-eared TV inside the store last weekend had him reaching for the nearest hammer-drill.

"Other teams have figured out what they're doing," Hank began, talking about the stumbling Bomber offence. "They've been that way for six weeks now. Especially Glenn. And now the receivers are starting to drop the ball."

Oh, Hank liked what he saw from the defence in that 16-6 loss to Toronto, but that's about it. Like me, he and the folks he met up with after the game can't figure out what head coach Doug Berry is doing with his kickers.

"Why don't they just get rid of the other kickers and let Troy kick?" Hank wondered.

Good question.

Berry's approach to tonight's regular-season finale against Montreal has been puzzling, too.

His suggestion this game isn't critical belies the fact the Bombers could still finish first. Perhaps he's simply trying to take some of the pressure off.

"I probably would take second place right now," Berry said yesterday. "If we can get this 10th win... I would be very satisfied with the season. We've gotta get to the playoffs. That's where it happens."

But it doesn't usually happen when a team staggers into the playoffs, the '88 squad notwithstanding.

D-lineman Doug Brown seems to believe tonight's match is paramount for this group's psyche, which he describes as "shaken, but not stirred."

"For multiple reasons it's important," Brown began. "Not only to get our confidence back, but we still have something to play for. And we can't count out the effort by Saskatchewan on Saturday.

"It does a lot for the team to be a 10-win club. I don't think anyone's disputed this season how much talent we have at different spots. We should be at least a 10-win team."

If the Bombers lose tonight and finish 9-8-1, it'll be impossible to call that progress from last season's 9-9 mark.

Unless, of course, the whole thing ends with an unlikely championship in Toronto.

Hardware Hank thinks it'll end in Toronto, all right.

"It'll end in the East Final when they go to Toronto," he said.

One thing is certain: if the Bombers, playing at home tonight with first place still up for grabs, can't beat a Montreal team that has nothing to play for, there won't be many optimists left.

Probably not many more than 12,210.


Videos

Photos