One for the road for Bombers?

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:04 PM ET

It was midway through practice, Wednesday, the Blue Bombers' final workout before they hit the road for Friday's season-opener in Hamilton.

General manager Joe Mack gathered the troops at centre field and delivered a pep talk, something about how they weren't getting much respect going into the season, and how they were going to surprise people.

Coming off a 4-14 debacle, and seeing how they haven't made a lot of changes, a healthy serving of doubt about the 2011 campaign seems reasonable.

There is one surefire way to gain respect around the CFL, though.

"We've gotta win road games," quarterback Buck Pierce said.

That's something the Bombers have yet to do under the Mack/Paul LaPolice regime.

Last season was just the second time this franchise has gone 0-9 away from home, and just the third time in history it's failed to win on the road when playing at least a 16-game schedule.

That could be a sign of young players who had trouble adjusting to life as pros. Take them out of their comfort zone, and they stumble.

It could suggest a lack of character: when adversity hits, they crumble.

It might also have been the product of a rookie head coach who simply hadn't been there, hadn't done that, and who fell short in preparing his players.

Ancient history, said LaPolice, Wednesday.

"I'm not going to build on last year," the coach said. "This is a different team, different in a number of ways. Last year is last year. Whether you win every game you played or whether you lost every game you played. If you treat this year the same as last year, you're going to be wrong."

The Bombers had better treat this one differently.

Because nobody is going to take this team seriously until it does something it hasn't done since Mike Kelly was calling the shots.

"That's what the CFL is about, winning on the road," Pierce said. "That's part of the guys getting another year older, being a better pro, how to respond on the road when you're down during close games."

It's been so long since this team won away from the friendly confines, the players we asked couldn't remember it.

"I don't know," defensive back Jonathan Hefney said. "It's been a while. Let me think. I was gone half the time last year, and we didn't win one when I came back. Oh, man... a long time ago."

Running back Fred Reid wasn't sure, either.

"Oh, man. What was it, 2009?" Reid asked.

The only other time the Bombers went 0-9 on the road was under Jeff Reinebold in '98.

That was also one of the very few seasons that produced a worse record than last year's.

Yet, this has been the nicest and happiest bunch of losers we've ever seen.

Everybody still seems to like them, too, judging by the more than 21,000 season tickets sold.

But those 21,000 can get ornery in a hurry. Another handful of close losses, no matter how it's dressed up, is going to get old awfully quick.

That makes this season-opener a real tone-setter, it seems to me.

To Reid, too.

"It's really important," Reid said. "We've got to come out this Friday and set a tone, from the first quarter, all the way. We've got to come out and finish games. We've got young guys going into their second year, they're familiar with a lot of things, everybody's on the same page."

So inexperience is no longer an excuse.

For the record, the last road win came Oct. 12, '09. In Hamilton.

I'm not sure what to expect from this year's edition.

If Pierce doesn't hold up, it figures to be another long season.

If he does, 10 wins would be a success, after 4-14.

One on the road would be good start.

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca

Twitter@friesensunmedia


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