Welcome to the circus

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

"It's all a bloody circus, mates, and clowns are in control."

-- Kris Kristofferson, from Slouching Toward the Millennium.

Never mind pumping in crowd noise during Winnipeg Blue Bombers practices -- a CD of circus sounds would be more appropriate.

Because let's face it, there's been a three-ring show swirling around the players all year.

Continuing a pattern that began before the season even started, there's almost always something going on off the field, culminating with this week's double-fiasco: head coach Mike Kelly banning callers to his radio show, followed by the Pacman Jones soap opera.

It began early in Week 2 with The Armstrong Affair, when star receiver Derick Armstrong's refusal to play and subsequent public comments in the Sun about being disrespected dominated the headlines for days -- until he was cut.

Week 3 saw SpyGate rock the organization (whatever happened to Ron Trentini, anyway?). And when Kelly did his "non-issue, being handled internally, not-talking-about-it" thing for the TV cameras, it took on a life of its own.

Skip ahead to Week 5 and we had the desperate pursuit of Michael Bishop, the veteran quarterback Kelly had insisted wasn't necessary. At the same time, the coach called the fans schizophrenic.

Before the Week 8 game in B.C., another bombshell: former No. 1 quarterback Stefan LeFors confirming the team gave him an ultimatum: take a $60,000 pay cut, or hit the street.

And here we are preparing for Week 9, the Labour Day weekend classic, no less, and the entire continent is focused on the Bombers' mishandling of, and subsequent flip-flop, in the Pacman Jones saga.

Seems the distractions get bigger with every sound of the gong.

This team is the official laughingstock of the CFL, its circus freak, and it has nothing to do with the players on it.

Heck, even they are laughing.

"We're an exciting football team," cracked D-lineman Doug Brown yesterday. "We like to keep things live, every week. The tumbleweed keeps on turning. Going downhill. It's been amusing to me, more than anything else. It puts us on the map."

Brown says it's to the point where reporters from other cities express envy they're not covering the never-a-dull-moment Bombers.

"You guys are lucky guys to have the jobs you have right now, being in this city," he said. "Because it's live, 24 hours a day. Keeps you on your toes. On the edge."

Over on offence, centre Obby Khan says the last time he experienced anything like this was when he played in Ottawa, four years ago.

You know you're under the big top when you're being compared to the Glieberman's Flying Circus, the highlights (?) of which included toga nights and the famous Mardi Gras promotion, where women were encouraged to bare their breasts at games in exchange for prizes.

"But on the field it's completely different," Khan said. "We're confident and ready to play. We've got a great group of guys this year."

That's the thing. The players seem to be sticking together. Vets like Brown and Khan say the shenanigans haven't been a distraction for them.

It's a good thing.

Because you get the distinct feeling the circus won't be pulling up stakes and leaving town anytime soon.

Case in point: yesterday, head organ grinder Lyle Bauer, asked about the web video that killed the Pacman deal, told the Sun he hadn't seen it, didn't even know what video we were talking about.

This, hours after Kelly admitted the video was a factor.

Priceless.

When's the next show?

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca or 632-2788.


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