Blind faith in Blue

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:13 AM ET

I've been wondering this for a while, and last week's Blue Bomber game did nothing to make me stop.

What's up with Bomber fans this year?

By now, aren't they supposed to be crawling back into their shells, scared away by a losing record?

That's the M.O. in this town -- "We're behind you, win or tie" -- isn't it?

Instead, more than 27,000 (with a decent week of weather it might have sold out) showed up to watch last Friday's culmination of the East Division snail race, featuring Team Underachievement, at 5-9, and the woeful Toronto Argonauts, 4-10.

This after back-to-back sellouts against the Eskimos and Roughriders.

OK, so the Banjo Bowl is almost a guaranteed full house, thanks to a few thousand Rider Priders.

But selling out the Edmonton game? And drawing a healthy 27,000-plus for the Argos? What's next, a packed house for the pathetic Ticats in the regular-season finale, Nov. 1?

Apparently, the faithful are drinking head coach Doug Berry's Koolaid.

Because last season, while the Bombers were sidestepping into the playoffs, they couldn't even get 24,000 to show up for their last two home games.

Overall, this year's average crowd is virtually unchanged from '07.

"We should all just stand up and applaud our fans for what they've done this year," president/CEO Lyle Bauer was saying yesterday. "The message is clear: our fans certainly didn't give up on the season. For a team with the record we had at certain points, and quite frankly still have, it's extremely good."

So good, that Bauer has decided to take a calculated risk and buy the rights to the East semifinal from the CFL.

"If we are fortunate enough to host a playoff game, there's a very strong possibility we'll buy it," Bauer said. "That'll put some ownership on it. The upside isn't huge, but there is some upside."

Buying the rights costs $100,000, plus all the expenses of putting the game on. You need a crowd of 25,000 just to turn a profit.

Last year, the Bombers wanted no part of the division semi, thinking they'd probably lose money on it. So they let the league take the risk, and just 22,843 showed up.

Why the change?

For starters, the Bombers have more time to sell a playoff game this year, as they've already all but clinched second place and a home game. In fact, they begin selling semifinal seats today. Last year they didn't know where they'd finish until the last game of the season.

Not only that, playoff tickets were included in season ticket packages this year, so they're already halfway to a full house.

"That's a huge change," Bauer said. "You don't have to sell 25,000 seats in seven days."

Last year's game fell on Remembrance Day, too, remember? That was a tough sell, considering the noon start.

Add it all up, and it's actually a no-brainer this year.

The usual hurdles still apply: the fact the game's on TV, and it might be c-c-c-c-cold.

But at least they stand a fighting chance.

"We need to get into the mindset that the playoff game is the biggest game of the year," Bauer said. "Because it is. And we need to get out of the other mindset."

Be interesting to see if it works, come Nov. 8.

If the joint is rocking, it'll only add to a bottom line that promises to be surprisingly black this year.

That's right, Bauer says the Bombers should turn a profit, another anomaly in a season full of them.

"There's still optimism in what our guys might be able to pull off," Bauer said. "I don't think anybody's taken their eye off that prize, yet."

Maybe Bomber fans see something the rest of us don't.

Or maybe it's just blind faith.

Either way, it looks good on a town that in the past has abandoned ship at the first sign of the iceberg.

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GO FIGURE

Bombers' record in '07 10-7-1

Average crowd, overall 27,701

Average crowd, September-on 26,235

Bombers' record in '08 6-9

Average crowd 27,470

Average crowd, September-on 28,944


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