WINNIPEG - The sun was out, the temperature above average with a comfortable, fall breeze blowing through Portage and Main, Friday.
As far as Montreal Alouettes D-lineman Eric Wilson is concerned, it’s the lasting memory he wants of Winnipeg this year.
The former Winnipeg Blue Bomber got off the Alouettes team bus next to the famous intersection and promptly stated his desire to clinch first place in the CFL East, Saturday afternoon.
“That’s the one thing I talked to our young guys about — you do not want to come to Winnipeg in November,” Wilson said. “It is not a pretty place.”
Wilson was talking about the weather. At least, we think he was.
The 10-5 Als can avoid that November trip with a win over the 9-6 Blue Bombers, clinching their fourth division title in a row and seventh in the last 10 years.
Not only does Montreal usually win the East, it typically has the title clinched by now.
“Each and every game has been just a battle, just a dogfight every week,” Als head coach Marc Trestman said. “To my recollection, we’ve never been in this position with three games left to go. That’s a real credit to what’s going on in this division.”
Especially in Winnipeg, where the Bombers held first place much of the season, only to see Montreal regain the lead during their 2-5 slide.
In contrast, Montreal appears to be peaking at the right time, winning four in a row and five of its last six.
A two-time defending champion putting its foot on the gas?
“We’re heading in that direction,” quarterback Anthony Calvillo said. “We’ve been doing it for three to four weeks. But we have to do it for another week.
“Now it comes down to us and Winnipeg. We know what’s on the line, they know what’s on the line. We all have the same goal and plan, and that’s to host the Eastern final. And this game is going to determine a lot.”
If the Bombers win, they’ll take over first place because they’ll have won the season series, 2-1.
The last time these two met, two weeks ago, Montreal eked out a controversial 32-26 win when the Bombers couldn’t take advantage of a poor pass interference call giving them the ball on the one-yard line with eight seconds left.
Earlier in the season, Winnipeg slugged out a 25-23 decision in Montreal.
Unlike the game two weeks ago, Buck Pierce will start at quarterback for the Bombers.
Pierce knows a similar offensive performance to the one in Edmonton last week will mean disaster, Saturday.
“We need to keep Anthony on the sideline,” Pierce said. “We need to sustain some long drives.”
With what’s at stake, it’s easily Winnipeg’s biggest game of the season, and for the sixth straight time the Bombers will play before a sellout crowd.
Some advice: don’t leave early.
“We know every time we go up against them, it’s a fight — to the end,” Bomber defensive back Brandon Stewart said. “The game’s not won in the first or second quarter, it’s won in the fourth quarter. Every game has come down to that between us. We just want to get it to the fourth quarter... just give ourselves a chance to win the game at the end.”
The game puts Winnipeg’s league-leading defence against the Als top-rated offence.
But, to use a boxing term, the big-play Bombers stand a puncher’s chance against the methodically efficient champ.
“Each and every time that ball goes in the air they’ve got a chance to come down with it,” Trestman said. “When are they going to explode — it could happen at anytime.”
As for who’s hungrier, the champ or the contender, that might be a coin flip.
“We’re not going to give it away easily, I’ll tell you that,” Wilson said. “It’ll be a battle.”