Case of deja Blue?

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:20 AM ET

So, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, coming off a heart wrenching loss in the Grey Cup, open a season loaded with expectation against the Toronto Argonauts, here, Friday.

Talk about a flashback.

What is this, 2002 all over again?

It was June 28, six years ago, the Bombers embarked on a similar trail, also at home against Toronto. Coming off a championship-game loss to Calgary, that year was all about Unfinished Business, remember?

The club's official slogan has changed, but the rest looks eerily familiar.

After the loss to Saskatchewan, GM Brendan "Trader" Taman became Stand Pat, re-signing all his key free agents, talking Milt Stegall into giving it one more try and fielding basically the same team that fell just short of making CFL Heaven in '07.

Sure, safety Kyries Hebert and corner Juran Bolden are gone, while Taman and head coach Doug Berry gave kicker Troy Westwood the heave-ho, but that's pretty much it for key player moves.

It's rare to see a team this stable in the CFL, and if you're wondering how that worked out here the last time, I'm glad you asked.

Because it didn't.

The next year saw a nice 12-6 record fizzle in the division final, and by the '03 playoff game, a home thrashing at the hands of the Roughriders, the backpedalling was out of control.

"That flashed right in your eyes -- we'd gotten old and gotten beat up," Taman recalled yesterday. "We had to make changes."

It was too late. The downward spiral didn't stop until after then-head coach Dave Ritchie was Out the Door in '04, hitting rock bottom during the Barely Alive in '05 tour.

So how do we know Taman and third-year coach Doug Berry aren't making the Same Mistake in '08 -- being too loyal to aging vets and not bringing in enough new blood?

"Doug and I have talked about it, that we better watch the long-term, here," Taman said. "I think we're a better team. I don't think this is as old a team. And we're more talented."

Taman says his defensive backs, in particular, are vastly superior to the ones he fielded in the '01 Grey Cup, recalling names like Byron Capers, Marvin Coleman and Dave Donaldson.

"We were getting the last drop of gas out of them that we could," he said. "I don't think we're doing that with these guys."

Maybe not. But three of the Bombers' five starting DBs will be on the business end of 30 this year, part of a group of 16 players in that boat.

Five of them were in that '01 Grey Cup, including Matt Sheridan, who doesn't want any part of Unfinished Business.

"I was wondering if you were going to jinx it all and pull out that crappy slogan," the O-lineman said, sporting a glare that could bore holes through steel.

Sheridan says he's talked to some of the other vets about the two teams, and concluded there's no comparison.

"This is a lot better," he said. "In my impression -- and keep in mind I get hit in the head for a living so my recollections may be a little bit skewed -- we hit the ground running more than we did in 2002. The chemistry is much more solid than it was back then. Our leadership is much more stable as well."

I don't know, that '01 team was pretty tight, and laced with leaders: Stegall and Khari Jones on offence, Brian Clark and Ryland Wickman on defence.

No doubt, the current crew is pretty solid, too. Looking Great in '08, you might say.

Which makes this such an interesting comparison.

"Let's see where things end up again in November," Sheridan said. "And maybe we'll be able to put that one to bed."

Maybe.

And things would be just Sublime in '09.


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