Gallant hypes up the crowd

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 12:17 PM ET

Shawn Gallant was in the mood to whip the crowd into a frenzy on Friday night.

His Winnipeg Blue Bombers were charging towards their second consecutive win for the first time this season, and he wanted to hear the love from the Blue and Gold faithful.

The only problem when he looked towards the crowd, however, was that he saw a lot of blue -- as in empty seats.

"We're trying to get the fans to be loud, and you just see so many empty seats," Gallant said in the wake of Friday's 27-17 win over the Edmonton Eskimos. "That's the only thing that really has been bothering us, is that a lot of the fans just gave up.

"They're mad or whatever, but we're playing hard every week. I don't know. I just wish we could've had 30,000 here tonight screaming instead of 21,000. That's almost a 10,000 difference.

"That's the only thing from the get-go that's been bothering us, so hopefully that's what we can change a little bit."

Only 21,965 fans took in Friday's critical clash, which made it the smallest Canad Inns Stadium crowd since an October 1999 tilt against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Fan support in Winnipeg, as it is in most locales, is like a wave; it takes time to build and recede. They came to the park when the Bombers were losing, and now that the team is winning they're staying away because of the early-season struggles.

President and CEO Lyle Bauer said he was not surprised by the size of Friday's crowd, because that's the way it's been since he joined the franchise in the 1980s.

'Extremely lucky'

"We have a very strong, loyal base of 21,000 to 23,000 fans, which we are extremely lucky to have," Bauer said in an e-mail. "There are another 4,000 to 7,000 fans who will base their decision on the record and/or a special event.

"Remember, I played in a home playoff game in Winnipeg with an announced crowd of 12,210. That was 1988, and we all know what happened there."

The Bombers, of course, went on to win the Grey Cup that season. This year's version of the Blue and Gold, with a 5-8 record, still have a chance to win a title, although it sits on the outside of the playoff picture.

Winnipeg is two points back of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (6-7) for second place in the East Division, but it is two points out of a playoff spot because the B.C. Lions and Eskimos are both 6-7 and one of them would take the crossover playoff spot in the East if the playoffs started to day.

The Bombers, remarkably, can move into a tie for second place in the East on Thanksgiving Monday when they visit the Ticats at Ivor Wynne Stadium.

The way all three phases of the team are clicking, the Bombers have a chance to get the fans back -- and score those much-needed victories.

The offence did enough to put points on the board, the defence had Esks quarterback Ricky Ray in fits, and special teams won the contest thanks to Jovon Johnson's 118-yard missed field goal return for a score in the third quarter that turned the tide.

"That's what we've got to do every week, and if we do that every week we'll be unstoppable," running back Fred Reid said. "We'll be right up there with the teams like Montreal right now, and I believe we can do that right now -- hit on every phase: the defence, offence, special teams.

"It's all coming together right now, and we can't do nothin' but get better over the next couple of weeks. If we keep doing that, we've got a chance to make a Grey Cup run. I believe we can keep it going the way we're going right now."

Do that, and the masses should return.


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