Wild year in Blue & Gold

KIRK PENTON, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 10:10 AM ET

The GM quit, the coach ripped the GM who quit, the starting quarterback got cut, the star receiver dressed but refused to play in the season-opener, the star receiver got cut after nearly coming to blows with the coach, the coach yelled at the fans, the team's scout got caught charting the opponent's plays at practice, the coach yelled at the media, the coach called the fans schizophrenic, the new starting quarterback was benched, the new starting quarterback was forced to take a pay cut, the next new starting quarterback came in and couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, the guest coach became the offensive co-ordinator, the coach stopped taking calls on his call-in show, the team pursued Pacman Jones, the team watched a video of Pacman Jones, the team said it wasn't going after Pacman Jones, the starting middle linebacker asked for a trade, the starting middle linebacker was told to stay out of the locker-room, the starting middle linebacker was asked to come back, the coach swore on the radio, the coach got fined by the league for treating the media badly, the starting quarterback who got cut came back and knocked his old team out of playoff contention, the president quit, the coach got arrested, and the coach got fired.

Other than that, it was just another quiet year for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Seriously, who's writing the book?

These year-end stories are supposed to be a look back at the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the victories and defeats, the good times and bad.

This year it reads more like a police report.

What, too soon?

Anyway, without further ado, here's a look back at the top seven Bomber stories from 2009.

1. THE FALL OF MIKE KELLY

Jeff Reinebold is laughing somewhere right now.

Because now when a coach comes to Winnipeg and doesn't live up to expectations, the fans are going to chant, "We want Mike Kelly!" instead of the name of the former Bombers boss who lost a lot of games in the late 1990s.

The Blue and Gold weren't a terrible football team under Kelly, but they weren't great, either. His offence, which worked when he was the offensive co-ordinator in the 1990s, didn't work 15 years later.

His statement about nobody handling the quarterbacks but him came back to bite him, too, because that was the team's biggest detriment.

Off the gridiron, it was 10 times worse. Just go back and read the first paragraph again. The mug shot will live in infamy.

And despite his smug assurances to fans that everything was going to be all right, it never ended up being all right.

(The media misses you already, Mike!)

2. THE BIG BOSS WALKS

Usually when the president-CEO who saved the franchise resigns after 10 years at the helm, it's the top story of the day.

Lyle Bauer picked the wrong day to call it quits, because it ended up being the third most newsworthy sports event of Dec. 17 -- after Kelly's arrest on simple assault and harassment charges and then his firing.

Bauer put the plan together that salvaged the Winnipeg Football Club from its $5 million debt and turned it into a profitable, community-run franchise that now has $5 million in the bank.

The Bombers went to two Grey Cups -- and likely should have won them both -- under the Saskatchewan native's watch, and he started driving the bus towards a badly needed new stadium.

If he had left a couple years sooner, his legacy would have been, for the most part, spotless.

3. PACMAN FEVER

No Bombers story generated more copy across North America than this one.

Director of player personnel John Murphy spilled to the world on the last day of August, through SI.com, that Winnipeg was close to signing former NFL bad boy Adam (Pacman) Jones, telling the website that it was a "win-win" situation.

"From a marketing standpoint, a business standpoint and a football standpoint," Murphy said, "I could go to 100 NFL training camps and every pre-season game and more people will hear and know about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the next two weeks -- from the coverage we'll receive -- than in the last 10 years."

Murphy got his wish, but it was for all the wrong reasons.

After Pacman went on ustream.tv and said he was excited about playing in the United Football League -- among many other odd statements -- the Bombers pulled the plug.

If he hadn't made that video, he would have been a Bomber.

4. HEY BIG COUNTRY, YOU'RE UP ...

The Bombers were already down a man for their season opener in Edmonton when defensive tackle Doug Brown suffered a setback while battling what turned out to be meningitis.

They lost another when wide receiver Derick Armstrong dressed but refused to enter the game, upset that he had been asked to rotate with Adarius Bowman in the locker-room just before the contest.

"They didn't give me the most respect and let me know ahead of time, so I just figured I would return the same favour," Armstrong told the Sun the next day.

The Bombers were going to let him stay, but when Armstrong didn't back down from his comments in subsequent interviews, Kelly ordered his locker to be cleaned out.

When Armstrong arrived at work and saw his stall had been emptied, he went to Kelly's office. Their argument got so intense that players and assistant coaches had to step between them.

Armstrong, a 1,000-yard receiver in 2007 and 2008, was released four days later.

5. TURTLE MAN CALLS IT A CAREER

It was a transaction that was expected, but it was still newsworthy nonetheless.

Milt Stegall retired in February after 14 illustrious seasons in which he became the CFL's touchdown and receiving yards leader.

The super slotback capped his career -- spent entirely with the Bombers -- with 147 touchdowns and 15,153 receiving yards and will be a first-ballot Canadian Football Hall of Famer.

The only blemish on his resume is no Grey Cups.

6. IF YOU BUILD IT ...

The federal and provincial governments told David Asper on April Fool's Day that they would chip in several million dollars towards his new stadium at the University of Manitoba.

All he had to do was find commercial tenants for the area where Canad Inns Stadium currently sits. The high-end shopping centre will be called The Elms.

The only problem is Asper had to ask for (and received) an extension on his deal with the Winnipeg Football Club, since the struggling economy is making it hard to find business who want to call The Elms home.

It appears 2010 will be the make-or-break year for Asper's plan.

7. IS IT HOT IN HERE?

The Bombers are in the Sahara, and no one can say for certain that relief in sight.

The Blue and Gold have now gone 19 seasons without winning the Grey Cup, which is the longest drought in the CFL by a mile. Not only that, but they took a step back in 2009, finishing at 7-11 after an 8-10 mark in 2008.

Despite the off-field wackiness, the Bombers made solid personnel moves in '09 and have some quality pieces in place. But the bottom line is they don't have a consistent quarterback. The CFL is a quarterback league, and that has to be the team's off-season priority No. 1 from a personnel perspective.

What provides hope for the entire organization is that the slate has been wiped clean as it's never been wiped before. It is the dawn of a new day on Maroons Road.

And no matter what happens on the field next year, something tells us the first paragraph of this story next December won't be quite as long.

(We will always miss you, Mike!)

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca


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