Bombers under Kelly saw a lot of firsts

JIM BENDER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:25 AM ET

Ike Charlton sat on the stool beside his locker with his head bowed yesterday.

"I've never been out of the playoffs before," the veteran Winnipeg linebacker said as he finished packing on what is affectionately known as 'garbage-bag day.' "You always want to continue playing football but the reality of it is, it's time to go home so definitely, it hurts."

Never before has Charlton experienced such a controversial and strange season under a new regime led by mercurial rookie head coach Mike Kelly.

"This is my 10th year playing professional football and I've seen a lot of things. But a lot of stuff that went on around here was a first this year," said Charlton, who plans to return next season. "But it builds character in certain ways with certain guys. It can make you a stronger person. And if you don't have a bitter taste in your mouth after the whipping we got (Sunday), then you're in the wrong profession."

The Blue Bombers suffered a 39-17 beating by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, snuffing out their last playoff hope before a near-capacity home crowd on Sunday.

"There is no doubt in my mind that we could have been a 10-win team," said Charlton, who turns 30 next year. "Seven-11 is not good. It's ugly. It's not acceptable and we took a step back."

Winnipeg was 8-10 in 2008.

ANGRY KHAN: Bomber centre Obby Khan also believes the Bombers are actually better than their record indicates.

"I'm very, very upset, very frustrated," Khan said after busting his locker door on Sunday. "The hardest thing about losing like that is I believe and the guys in here believe that we're a better team (than Hamilton).

"The core of the team is here. This is the best team I've ever been a part of. The core of the team showed it has some real talent."

CHANGES?: But more changes are on the horizon.

"We were 8-10 last year and we made a lot of changes since last year and we took a step back," said veteran defensive tackle Doug Brown. "Who knows if this is a growing pain of a new regime or a sign that we've regressed as a franchise?

"Last year was pretty disappointing. We had a home playoff game. We were 8-10 and made the playoffs but this really stinks."

BRIGHT GUY: For the record, Hamilton linebacker Otis Floyd has a degree in criminal justice from the University of Louisville and owns a carwash chain in Atlanta where he also runs a lucrative real estate business, advises a Tiger-Cats media rep.

Kelly had suggested that Floyd was not smart enough to be a Bomber and asked aloud if he even had a degree after an exchange that sounded like two little boys with potty mouths on the field on Sunday.

FINAL STATS: Winnipeg K Alexis Serna was good on 40 of 49 field goal attempts for a club-record 81.6% ... Bomber RB Fred Reid finished second in the CFL rushing race to Calgary's Joffrey Reynolds with 1,371 yards on 238 carries ... With two picks on Sunday, Bomber DB Lenny Walls finished the year with seven interceptions (second in the CFL and the most in the East) ... WR Adarius Bowman, who did not catch a single pass Sunday, finished the season with a club-leading 55 receptions for 925 yards (12th in the CFL) ... LB Barrin Simpson led the Bombers with 84 defensive tackles (sixth) ... S Shawn Gallant led Winnipeg with 30 special teams tackles (third).

MUCH-WATCHED: TSN set a record for CFL viewers over the past season. The average audience was 600,000, a 51% increase from last season, it announced yesterday.

The most-watched match was the B.C.-Saskatchewan game that went into overtime on Oct. 24, with 1.2 million viewers.

jim.bender@sunmedia.ca


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