Bombers need to keep it rolling

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Long after his receivers and running backs had left the practice field, Friday, Buck Pierce was on the receiving end of a handoff.

A female fan handed Pierce her baby, and asked the Blue Bomber quarterback to pose for a picture.

Pierce cradled the infant in his arms, smiled for the camera and a lasting memory was born, to be passed down through the generations, presumably, of a family that bleeds Blue and Gold.

That's the way it is in Bomber-land these days.

Earlier in the week it was Doug Brown posing with a relative newborn. The head coach getting his breakfast tab picked up by the guy in front of him at the drive-through. Fans cheering good plays in practice.

The love affair with this team is hotter than the weather, hotter than it's been in years. Sunday's Banjo Bowl will mark the fourth consecutive sellout, and only a complete collapse could prevent the remaining three regular-season games from selling out, too.

This city is infatuated with the Bombers.

But how well does it really know them?

Those first eight games, seven of them wins, painted quite the picture.

Last week, though, they acted completely out of character. In Regina, of all places.

Of all the teams that have traipsed to the Queen City for Labour Day over the years, this was one of the most trustworthy.

Then it comes back with ripped clothes, a bad smell and a hangover -- and you're left to wonder if it was just one of those weekends, or the start of an ugly trend.

This Sunday, we should find out.

"We'll learn a lot," Pierce agreed. "Hopefully we bounce back from another loss. The most telling thing is that a team's able to bounce back. It'll test our mental toughness. That was one of the things that was most disappointing. We lost our poise, mentally. We lost that battle.

"In the first eight games that wasn't the case. We've kept our poise, came back and won tough ball games. It'll tell a lot. It'll show the character of the guys, in how they come out."

That's a lot to hang on one game.

But I've always felt the Banjo Bowl rematch with the hated Riders is a much more telling encounter than the more fabled Labour Day Classic.

Recent history suggests this game is the canary in the coal mine. If the Bombers roll over, they're usually doomed (see 2005, '08, '09).

If they fly around and chirp their way to victory, they're a team on the rise ('06, '07).

Of course, simply winning nine or 10 games this season would represent a dramatic reversal from a year ago.

But after a 7-2 first half, we've readjusted the sights. A .500 season would be a cave-in.

"Completely," Pierce said. "We need to keep rolling."

So while the Bombers have a nice cushion in the CFL East, with the new goal of first place in mind you get the impression this could be a swing game.

"In a lot of ways," Pierce said. "Starting fast was great because it puts you in a good position. But it is where you finish. Because teams get better."

Which brings us back to the woman who handed Pierce her baby.

"If he can catch a football, we should be able to trust him with a baby," she said.

Never mind that he actually (ital) throws (ital) the ball.

Football fans here, after years of letdowns, are simply eager to hand over their trust.

Sunday, the Bombers can either cradle and nurture it, or they can drop it.

Either way, that baby's story starts now.


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