WINNIPEG - Don’t suggest to Paul LaPolice that the football gods are just making up for last season.
The Bomber head coach believes hard work and preparation — not the ghosts of former gridiron greats — have helped propel the Blue and Gold to their hottest start in 27 years.
Winnipeg is 7-1 for the first time since 1984 and has a four-point lead on the Montreal Alouettes (5-3) in the East Division going into the 49th Labour Day Classic in Regina next Sunday against the Saskatchewan Roughriders (1-7).
“I don’t believe last year merits too much to this year,” LaPolice said Saturday, 15 hours after the Bombers edged the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 30-27 for their fifth win in a row. “I believe we’re playing better. We’re making better decisions on the field, and we’re making more plays.”
The Bombers lost nine games last season by four points of fewer, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest they had bad luck on more than one occasion.
LaPolice doesn’t believe that, however, just like he won’t say good fortune has played a role this year.
“It was luck that Joe Lobendahn got them to fumble at the one-yard line? No, it was effort,” LaPolice said. “We coach these guys about running to the football every day, and our coaches should be commended and our players should be commended for doing what they’re supposed to.
“Luck happens when you’re practising and doing what you’re supposed to do, because it’s hard. Even when you’ve got the best team in the world, it’s hard to win football games. You could have the best talent in the world. It’s hard to win in pro football. I believe we make our own luck.”
Not only did Lobendahn pop the ball out of the arms of Chris Williams on Winnipeg’s one-yard line just as he was about to score a touchdown on Friday night, but Jovon Johnson basically avoided the entire Ticats offence in turning an interception into a 67-yard major in the first half.
“The pick, Jovon had seen it all week. He said he knew the play was coming because he’s prepared,” LaPolice said. “Joe Lobendahn gave great effort and stripped the ball out. That’s why they were lucky, because they were prepared.”
The common thread between the Lobendahn and Johnson plays is they were both turnovers, a statistical category the Bombers are dominating this season.
They have 33 takeaways and just 10 giveaways, giving them a plus-23 ratio. The next best mark is Montreal, which is plus-3.
It’s not too soon to take a look at the CFL record of plus-41, set by the 1981 Edmonton Eskimos.
Ticats head coach Marcel Bellefeuille even mentioned the lack of turnovers when he shook LaPolice’s hand after the game, telling him “you don’t turn the ball over, and it’s hard to win (when that happens).”
It was a hard contest for the Bombers to win as well, and LaPolice took exception to a post-game question about it being the worst his team has played this season.
“That’s a hell of a football team we just beat last night,” he said. “They won four out of their last five, including Montreal, and they are talented.
“It’s hard to get to 7-1. That doesn’t happen in any league. I don’t know how many years it’s been, 25 or so, since we’ve been here, so they’re not going to be pretty, but that’s what you have to do: find ways to win. So hats off to the players.”