WINNIPEG - Five games into the CFL season it's safe to say the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are one gutsy football team.
Thursday's win over the B.C. Lions, in the face of massive adversity, drove home the point that GM Joe Mack and head coach Paul LaPolice have built a team with impressive character.
The Bombers are not only doing what it takes to win on the field but they're proving to be tough as nails and full of a special quality that allowed them to play through the emotional pain of losing a close friend and mentor just two days before the game.
The Bombers were collectively heartbroken when defensive line coach Richard Harris died suddenly last week.
To a man, the players said after the game they were emotionally spent and felt more drained than they had ever felt in their lives.
Still, they managed to channel that emotion into a positive performance and their fourth win in five games this season.
The 4-1 record is equal parts surprising and impressive.
This is a team that won only four games all of last season and yet it's a team that could easily be 5-0, were it not for an untimely fumble in a 21-20 loss to the Calgary Stampeders earlier this month.
This is a team that continually found ways to lose close games last season, but clearly learned from that experience and is now winning most of the close ones.
Nobody is booking Grey Cup tickets yet, but the signs point to this team at least being a contender.
It's a team with a punishing, relentless defence that leads the league in almost every category.
The residents of Swaggerville have been toughest when they are needed most, in the dying minutes as the Bombers protect narrow lead after narrow lead.
It's a team that is taking its cue from a tough hombre at quarterback.
Buck Pierce has been removed from two of the last three games due to injury, but you can rest assured it's not his decision.
Pierce has a reputation as a glass quarterback because he's been knocked out of so many games in his career. But he plays with a fearless style, despite his history, and it's something that is rubbing off on the players and fans of this upstart team.
Pierce is a natural born leader and, even though he's not having the greatest season statistically, the heart and self-confidence he continues to show are big parts of why the team is having success.
The gutsy efforts don't stop there. Backup quarterback Alex Brink was forced into action Thursday and led the team to a comeback win. His runs on draw plays were well executed and he showed the same kind of heart Pierce is known for when putting his shoulder into a would-be tackler shortly before throwing the go-ahead touchdown pass to Terrence Edwards.
Edwards and the receivers have sucked it up of late as well, coming up consistently with big plays in recent weeks after a slow start to the season.
Bottom line is, this team has fortitude.
That was never more evident than in the eyes of defensive leader Doug Brown, who simply couldn't shake away the tears during a touching pre-game tribute to his fallen friend and mentor.
Brown and his teammates soldiered on and won the game for Richard, honouring the man with the perfect tribute.
Their bodies still numb from the shock, their minds still swimming with memories, their insides still churning with sadness, the Bombers would have been immediately forgiven by the faithful if they couldn't conjure up a win under extemely trying conditions Thursday night.
But they dug deep to pull out a quality that has been ample in this still-early campaign.
Guts of iron.