Bombers' boss gives thanks for playoff berth

Blue Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice looks on from the sidelines during a game against the...

Blue Bombers head coach Paul LaPolice looks on from the sidelines during a game against the Argonauts at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont., Sep. 24, 2011. (MIKE CASSESE/Reuters)

JIM BENDER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:01 AM ET

WINNIPEG - You could forgive Paul LaPolice an extra sip or two of celebratory wine at Thanksgiving dinner.

His Blue Bombers, after all, became the first CFL team to earn a playoff berth with a 33-17 victory over the Tiger-Cats in Hamilton on Friday. That came one year after Winnipeg finished a CFL-worst 4-14 in LaPolice’s first year as head coach.

They also clinched despite losing starting tailback Fred Reid — last year’s leading rusher — and starting middle linebacker Joe Lobendahn to season-ending injuries. Not to mention starting quarterback Buck Pierce playing through the pain of bruised ribs that kept him out of one contest.

Yet the sophomore head mentor was not about to rest on the laurels of such a dramatic turnaround from last year’s turkey under such trying circumstances.

“Just making the playoffs is not what’s going to satisfy this place, this town, this community,” LaPolice said after returning from Hamilton on Saturday. “We’re well aware of the fact that we want to continue to win games to put ourselves in position to compete for a Grey Cup … That’s the ultimate goal, to win championships.”

The Bombers will be allowed a grin, a rest, a deep breath, then get back at it on Tuesday.

“It feels good to do things early,” LaPolice allowed. “We’ve been doing that all year. We’ve been winning season series early against division opponents and we’ve gotten into the playoffs early. It’s a great accomplishment because it’s something the organization hasn’t done in a long time (2008).

“We believe that it’s our first step. Now we can enjoy the win, have a couple of days off and then get focused on continuing to play our best football. We want to be playing our best football at the end of the year and certainly, we want to have a home playoff game.”

Winnipeg is 9-5 and its magic number to host at least the East Division semifinal is two, but the Bombers are aiming to host the final.

“It feels great,” cornerback Brandon Stewart said of earning a playoff spot for the first time as a Bomber. “I’m excited about it, but even in that aspect we’re not where we want to be yet. We want to be No. 1. That’s the goal.”

So have they started thinking Grey Cup yet?

“No, not at all,” said defensive back Jonathan Hefney, who has also made the playoffs for the first time as a Bomber. “You’re supposed to once you get into the playoffs, but we’ve still got business to handle, trying to get a home playoff game.

“We’ve got Edmonton coming up and that’s our first focus. Then, we’ve got the big game coming up against Montreal after that, and as long as we take care of that, everything will be all right.”


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