The frost may be just starting to cover the pumpkins but it's not too early in the CFL season for an outgrowth of hair in and around the Blue Bombers locker-room.
With six games still left in the regular season, some Winnipeg players have already started growing playoff beards. But, in this scenario, the 4-8 Bombers are in their own version of playoffs just to get into post-season play.
"We're in playoff mode now," Winnipeg head coach Mike Kelly declared yesterday. "We control our own destiny so we have to approach every week like we are in the playoffs right now."
The Bombers kept their hairy playoff hopes alive with a 29-24 victory over the Toronto Argonauts (3-9) last week. Going into tonight's game against the 6-6 Edmonton Eskimos at Canad Inns Stadium (6:30 p.m.), the Bombers trail the B.C. Lions by two points in the race for the crossover playoff race and four behind the second-place Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East. Losing any of these next three games may not be sudden death but it will leave the Bombers standing at the end of the gangplank.
"We've put ourselves into a deep hole and it's up to us to get ourselves out of it," said Bomber cornerback Keyuo Craver. "We know what's at stake and we've got to approach every game like it's going to be our last game ... You've got to approach it like it's the playoffs."
But there is more to it than growing fur.
"They can grow their hair and their facial hair as long as they want, as long as they're taking business on the field," said goateed quarterback Michael Bishop, who is coming off his best game as a Bomber. "We know what's ahead of us. We know we have a great opportunity. We control our own destiny. It's right there in front of us so we just ride this course, keep everybody upbeat, do the right things and everything else will take care of itself."
Following this match, the Bombers will play the Tiger-Cats in Hamilton, then host the Lions.
"That win (over Toronto) made it a little bit easier to feel like we're getting back on the path that we need to be on to have the hope to be in the playoffs at the end of the year," said Bomber linebacker Siddeeq Shabazz. "We've got to get this win."
Although Shabazz was also sporting a beard, it has nothing to do with any post-season ritual.
"I just started growing mine just for the fun of it, not for the playoffs," he said. "We'll make it either way."
While the Bombers remain in the race to save face, the Eskimos are still battling for top spot in the CFL West, just two points behind both Calgary and Saskatchewan.
"What we want is to have an opportunity to finish in first place," said Edmonton head coach Richie Hall. "This is playoff football.
"They (Bombers) have a lot of hunger, they have a lot of pride. Just like every other team, aside from Montreal, they've had their share of inconsistencies. It's what Bomber team is going to show up (tonight) and what Edmonton team is going to show up (tonight) because that's a common denominator of all the teams other than the Montreal Alouettes."
Losing to the Bombers would actually drop Edmonton into the crossover playoff battle.
"I look forward to the challenge that the Eskimos present," Kelly said. "Obviously, we want to compete with the Eskimos, and we think we can."
For a whole week now, Kelly has actually been talking about a football game without off-field distractions.
"So boring," he joked. "All those things got spectacularized, exaggerated ... But it has been a quiet week and it's been kind of nice."