WINNIPEG - I don’t know if he took it personally, but it was clear as I sat across a boardroom table from Blue Bomber GM Joe Mack, Tuesday, the man didn’t like my column in that day’s paper.
In case you missed it, I suggested the Bombers have put together one of the ugliest 10-win seasons in CFL history. That instead of getting extra time off this week, they should be doing extra work to right a ship that’s taking on water, winning just three of 10 games going into the playoffs.
“That was so kind of you,” Mack, his tongue firmly in his cheek, said, before launching into his rebuttal.
“The first time in 10 years the Bombers are in first place. The Bombers had eight of their 10 wins against playoff teams. The other two playoff teams in our Eastern Division, we were 5-1 against them this year. We beat Montreal two out of three, we beat Hamilton all three times, in important games.
“So to make that jump from where the club was in 2009, being in first place and having a first-round bye, that’s a pretty good accomplishment.”
I agree. This team is a breath of fresh air compared to what it was in ’09.
Of course, anything smells better than a sewer.
And you never want to start using rock-bottom as your bar of comparison.
Going into the season, I said 10-8 wouldn’t be bad, never mind where it got you in the standings.
But, geez, it’s only one win above .500. And after coming out of the gate like gangbusters, at 7-1, it still feels like a return to mediocrity.
“Obviously we wish we were playing better, there’s no doubt about that,” Mack continued. “But everybody’s 0-0 right now. And last time I checked with the league rules, if we were, say, 14-4 instead of 10-8, they aren’t going to give us 14 points on the scoreboard just because we’re 14-4.
“I would guess right now that Montreal and Hamilton would like to be in our spot. Do we need to play better? Absolutely. It’ll be difficult to win a championship if we don’t play better.”
But here’s where it’s time to hand out some plaudits to the second-year GM.
An examination of CFL rosters confirms a commonly held suspicion that Mack’s Bombers are the youngest team in the loop.
Never mind age. Games of CFL experience are just as telling. And Winnipeg’s the greenest bunch in the land, averaging 2.9 years, a full year-and-a-half younger, on average, than the B.C. Lions.
“We’re good. We’re special. We’re young,” quarterback Alex Brink was telling me the other day. “Young teams have issues with consistency on occasion. That’s certainly been a characteristic of us late in the year. But there’s no doubt we have the talent. The future of this team can be very bright.”
Whereas former GM Brendan Taman would plug holes with aging vets year after year, Mack has gone with kids, relatively speaking. A strategy that appears to be paying off.
“Being that we’re in first place, that’s a pretty good strength,” Mack said. “That’s a lot to build on.”
Ah, yes. First place. It’s the mantra this team can always fall back on, and damn the record down the stretch.
But if that’s your argument, then you’ve got to follow it through.
When you’re in top spot, anything less than a trip to the Grey Cup is a failure, right?
“I’d be disappointed if we didn’t make it to the Grey Cup,” Mack said. “Getting that first-round bye is a real advantage. We’ll assess it afterwards. But I want us always to continue to make strides, and this would be another step towards getting where we want to be, and that’s to consistently be a championship caliber team. Obviously in any one game, anything can happen.”
A championship caliber team, year after year?
I’ll have no problem holding you to that.