'Unpredictable' Bombers aiming high

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:25 AM ET

REGINA -- The rivalry may be the same and the painted faces just as colourful, but there seems to be something lacking on the eve of the CFL's most celebrated battle.

In past years, the hype leading up to the annual Labour Day Classic between the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders would only rival that of Grey Cup week.

But the Bombers spent most of the week before this afternoon's match at Mosaic Stadium being besieged by first, the controversy surrounding head coach Mike Kelly's decision to no longer face critics on his weekly radio show, then the whole sorry scenario surrounding the pursuit of ex-NFLer Adam (Pacman) Jones.

The Classic had almost become an afterthought.

"Maybe that's better," Bombers defensive tackle Doug Brown suggested yesterday.

"Sometimes, you can overplay the prominence of a game to the players.

"Maybe it's better for us to have the mindset that it is just another game in terms of the approach because you still have to have your wits about you on the football field because it's not all just pure aggression and hatred that wins the game."

The Bombers improved to 3-5 with a win over B.C. before the bye week while Saskatchewan dropped to 4-4 after a loss to Montreal. So, the focus will be more on today's result than the rowdiness of the Classic crowd.

"It's a perfect setting for us, because we're unpredictable right now, as a football team, going into an unpredictable environment," Brown said.

"It's like two negative 'energers' -- when you add them together, you get a positive. So maybe this is our boom town. We'll see."

This is the first of a home-and-home series, with the Bombers hosting the Banjo Bowl in Winnipeg next Sunday.

"It's 'gigantuan,' " said Bombers head coach Mike Kelly.

"It's big for both clubs. A sweep for either club turns their season. This is when we know the season is different.

"Now, you buckle your chinstrap up a little bit tighter going into the second half. Playing against Saskatchewan is always a measuring stick because they play the game so hard.

"Saskatchewan is a tremendous team when it almost comes to overachieving."

The Bombers are hoping their convincing victory over the Lions before last week's bye was not the result of overachieving.

"We've got to start to turn things around soon if we want to make a big playoff push," said Winnipeg centre Obby Khan.

"If we can get a win in hostile territory against a tough opponent, it could be a real eye-opener for the league that here we come!"

The game was sold out within hours of the last 7,000 tickets going on sale quite some time ago.

"This is the biggest game of the year for our fans and our team feeds off our fans, and we really want to play well," said Saskatchewan head coach Ken Miller.

"You have to keep it all in perspective and realize that, even though there is a lot of hype to this game, it's still one game," added Roughriders quarterback Darian Durant.

Although Winnipeg's starting quarterback Michael Bishop led the Roughriders to back-to-back victories over the Bombers in both the Classic and the Banjo Bowl last season, he claimed he bears little animosity towards the team that cut him.

"To me, it's just another game," Bishop said. "I understand a lot of the extra things around this game but for me and my teammates, it's just another opportunity to get better. It's an opportunity for us to come in and beat a good football team."

JIM.BENDER@SUNMEDIA.CA


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