Now it's football season

Blue Bombers defensive end Fernand Kashama (left) wore a balaclava while talking to defensive...

Blue Bombers defensive end Fernand Kashama (left) wore a balaclava while talking to defensive lineman Deji Oduwole during practice at Canad Inns Stadium in Winnipeg, Man., Oct. 13, 2011. (JASON HALSTEAD/QMI Agency)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:03 PM ET

WINNIPEG - The temperature was in the single digits, with a north wind that cut straight to the bone.

Just like that, Winnipeg Blue Bomber practice took on a playoff feel, Thursday.

Its howling out there, quarterback Buck Pierce said. You knew it was comin. I was tellin some of the guys, Its only gonna get colder. The warm days are behind us.

Pierce meant that in a purely meteorological sense, of course.

But one of the interesting things about the Bombers, many of whom have never been in a playoff race, will be to see how they handle heated competition in frigid conditions.

Its come down to this: four games for first place, all of them on the Canadian prairie, three of them against teams (Edmonton, Montreal and Calgary) with the same aspirations.

STAKES GO UP

From now on, the stakes go up, the temperature down.

I played football in New York, which is really cold, Chris Garrett, the running back wholl have to carry the frozen mail, was saying. And Ive played football in Ohio, where it snows nearly half the season. So Im pretty much used to this kind of weather.

Well talk again in four weeks, Mr. Garrett.

Late autumn football in the CFL is not for the faint of heart.

But it appeals to Pierce, and that probably shouldnt come as a surprise.

Long before he was a professional quarterback, watching playoff games as a kid on his parents satellite TV in northern California, Pierce marveled at images of gunslingers like Jeff Garcia dancing across vast, frozen fields in this strange land of the three downs.

This is right for this time of the year, Pierce said of the weather. This is CFL. This is the stuff I watched on TV growing up, always cold, snow on the ground and everybody bundled up on the sidelines. This is the fun time of the year.

No amount of TV viewing, however, could prepare Pierce for the real thing, his first taste coming about this time of year in Edmonton.

Its a shock, the former B.C. Lion said.

I look back at my first snow game. They were bulldozing the field the day before. Im like, Are they gonna play the game? We still played the game, and we ended up winning.

But its a shock. Theres lots of tricks Ive learned over the years, the hot packs in the shoes and bundling up. But once you get out there... its fun to play in.

Of course, Pierce acknowledges many of his teammates dont have a clue whats coming.

One of them is rookie receiver Clarence Denmark, a product of Jacksonville, Fla., who looked right at home during Winnipegs endless summer.

Its going to get way colder than this, Denmark readily admitted. Before you even come out of the locker-room, you set your mind on it... so it really dont catch you by surprise.

HIT-AND-MISS

Through 15 weeks, the 9-5 Bombers have caught a few people by surprise.

We marveled at their 7-1 start, poking and prodding to see if it was real.

Back-to-back losses against doormat Saskatchewan set off the alarms, but they were quickly shut off with a win in Montreal.

Since then, the Bombers have been hit-and-miss but the hits always seem to come in the biggest games. Often on the road.

This weekend, Pierce and Co. are in Edmonton, not expecting a snowstorm, perhaps, but no warm welcome, either.

The good teams right now win, No. 4 said. Were going to have to be on the road, its going to be cold, its going to be tough and its good to start having that mental attitude right now, too. Because playoffs are right around the corner.

All will be forgotten if we dont finish it the way we need to.

Put another way, Canadian football heroes arent made from July to September.

The best moments, after all, are frozen in time.


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