The trades, the locker-room squabbles, the presidential plea and the board of governors decisions have all been completed, so it can mean only one thing.
It's time for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to play a football game.
In this, the year of the distraction on Maroons Road, football has become a secondary event. Tonight's clash against the Toronto Argonauts, however, is one of primary importance.
Though neither squad, both sporting 3-8 records, is likely to make the CFL playoffs this fall, the winner of tonight's Hall of Fame Game at Canad Inns Stadium (8 p.m., TSN) gets to shove the loser a little closer to the electric chair.
The Bombers and Argos entered the weekend four points behind the B.C. Lions, who hold the crossover playoff spot and were playing late last night against Calgary.
"We certainly would understand that whoever loses this game, that light at the end of the tunnel is starting to look like a little pin rather than any kind of beacon," maligned Bombers head coach Mike Kelly said.
"But there's still light there, because you wouldn't be eliminated yet in our wacky world that we live in in the Canadian Football League. At 3-9 you wouldn't be mathematically eliminated yet, so you keep building upon that."
Speaking of construction issues, Kelly made it clear yesterday that the offensively challenged Bombers, despite parting ways with a 1,000-yard receiver for the second time this season in Romby Bryant, are not in rebuilding mode.
"We still think we have a legitimate shot to make some noise down the stretch here," he said. "I don't think that that's foolish. I don't think it's foolhardy.
"I believe in this football team. I've never wavered from that, and I'm not going to waver from it. It'll be that way until November. ... I'm not trashing anything for next season."
The fans, on the other hand, are starting to waver, as only 21,208 tickets had been sold as of 3 p.m. yesterday.
It's likely no coincidence that Bomber president and CEO Lyle Bauer yesterday morning made an impassioned plea on the team's website for fans to remain on the Bomber train even though the tracks are buckling big time.
"We are fully aware that this frustration has caused some of our fans to become disenfranchised with the club, and to a point that is understandable," Bauer wrote. "We also are extremely fortunate to have a strong fan base who are 'Blue Bomber' supporters who have been there for the 'good' and the 'not so good' over the 80-year history of this club. To those fans we extend a heartfelt thank you to their commitment, loyalty and passion.
"To those have have become disenfranchised we hope that we will be able to regain your confidence and know that much of your support is based on 'winning' and we fully understand that."
It's unclear why Bauer put "winning" in quotation marks, but the Bombers haven't been doing a lot of "winning" lately. They've lost three straight (getting pulverized 117-38 in the process) and have dropped five of their last six.
Quarterback Michael Bishop, who beat the Argos 13-12 in his Bomber debut on Aug. 1 at Rogers Centre, is keeping his chin up through these trying times and knows the solution to the frustration.
"We can silence all that by winning games," he said. "So that's what we need to do."
The Argos, who are almost -- but not quite -- as bad as the Bombers offensively, have lost six of their last seven, their only victory in that span being an overtime triumph over Hamilton two weeks ago.
"I've dealt with this before, where we were 2-7 and won all the way through," Argos returner Dominique Dorsey said. "Anything can happen if we just stay together."