'Defining moment'

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:44 AM ET

Sure, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers battled back to qualify for post-season play after falling on their faces in the first half.

But many of these guys can still taste the bitter herb of losing last year's Grey Cup to Saskatchewan on their tongues. The only way to get rid of it is to sip champagne out of the CFL's Holy Grail.

To get back, the Bombers must first beat the Edmonton Eskimos when they host the Eastern Semifinal at wintry Canad Inns Stadium at noon today.

'A BIG STEP'

"We tasted it last year," Bomber offensive tackle Alexandre Gauthier said yesterday. "We were there and we saw how big that game is and we want to go back there. We haven't proven anything yet. Sure we made it to the Big Show but we didn't win. We don't have the ring, we don't have the title, so we haven't done anything.

"We're so close and we feel like we need to prove to ourselves and to our fans that we actually deserve to be a championship team and that's all going to start this week. I mean, if we don't win this one, then we haven't proven anything. So this is a big step."

The Bombers rebounded from a 2-8 start to post an 8-10 record.

"It was pretty tough but we stuck together and everybody kept pushing in the same direction and now we're in the playoffs," Gauthier said. "That's the fun part of the season, so like Yoda said in Star Wars, 'Do, or do not, there's no try.'"

CFL history is full of squads that returned to win the Cup the year after they lost.

"We had a taste of it last year and let it go," said Bomber linebacker Ike Charlton. "Once you have a taste of the Grey Cup, you want to get back and (today), you start Game 1. We've got to realize the magnitude of this game."

The winner advances to the East Final against the Alouettes in Montreal next week.

The Eskimos posted a 10-8 log -- fourth in the West, but clearly better than Toronto and Hamilton in the East.

"This is the defining moment for our football team," Bomber defensive tackle Doug Brown said. "Are we the team that was 2-8 and should have written off the season or are we trying to make something out of our resurgence in the second half? If we lose, then we just regress to the team that everyone kind of thought we were.

"If we win, it shows that we weren't just a flash in the pan for the second half ... that we are a better team, especially if we beat a team the calibre of the Edmonton Eskimos."

No crossover squad has won in four tries.

"Maybe it's time to change that," said Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray. "Maybe we can do that. We've beaten everybody in the CFL this year and there's always time to change trends like that."

The Eskimos failed to qualify for the playoffs the past two seasons after winning the Grey Cup in 2005.

"The last few years have been tough," Ray said. "The reason you play this game is to win and to win a championship. If you're not making the playoffs, that means you're losing and it's not fun. So this year has been a lot of fun. You ... have a shot to be back in the playoffs and have another chance at the Grey Cup."

But it is no fun to get there and lose.

"We're anxious to get that bad taste of losing the Grey Cup out of our mouths but we can't get there until we beat Edmonton," said Bomber defensive end Gavin Walls. "As for the Grey Cup, that's two games away and our main focus is handling these guys right now."


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