Bombers beating the odds

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:38 AM ET

WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have a chance to pull off a rare feat Sunday when the final game is played at Canad Inns Stadium.

A victory over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the East Final would make them just the second team in the last 29 years to go from the basement of their division one year to the Grey Cup the next.

The last team to do it was the Tiger-Cats in 1998.

It’s been quite the turnaround in this final season on Maroons Road.

The Blue and Gold were 4-14 in the first year of the Joe Mack-Paul LaPolice era, and now they’re hosting the East Final with a chance to play in the 99th Grey Cup in Vancouver next Sunday night against either the B.C. Lions or Edmonton Eskimos.

It would be just their third trip to the big game since 1993.

“The thing I was worried about coming back this year was whether we adopted that culture of losing,” said Bombers defensive tackle Doug Brown, who will be playing his last game in Winnipeg on Sunday. “Instead of finding ways to win, we would just be accepting the way our fortunes were going to be told to us and see how we were going to lose that game.

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment for a team that went 4-14 to even be situated in the position we’re in right now. As we’ve seen from a lot of other examples from a lot of other teams in this league, it’s a slow process to get back into contention, especially with the turnover and attrition that we’ve had in Winnipeg.”

The main theme of the 2011 season has been Swaggerville, Winnipeg’s smothering defence that led several statistical categories and helped the Bombers beat the Ticats all three times they met.

Winnipeg’s defence has been stellar all season, while the offence has struggled mightily since Labour Day, resulting in just three wins in their last 10 games.

Quarterback Buck Pierce, who will make his first start since Oct. 28, and the rest of the Bomber offence needs to hold on to the ball, score a few points, and let the defence do its thing if they’re going to emerge victorious on what will be a bone-chilling afternoon.

The forecasted high is -10 C with a 20 km/h wind out of the south.

It’s crucial for the Bombers to put points on the board early, as slow starts have doomed them lately.

“We want to start fast,” Pierce said. “We want to give our defence a chance to lock it down and just pin their ears back and go. For them to do that, we have to stay on the football field and generate first downs and score points when we have to.”

The Ticats, who ended Montreal’s two-year title reign with a 52-44 overtime victory in last week’s East semifinal, were the more loose group on Saturday.

Members of their offensive line did their walkthrough on the field in shorts and shirtsleeves (the wind chill factor was -22 C at the time), and the Hamilton trio of quarterback Kevin Glenn, running back Avon Cobourne and defensive end Stevie Baggs did a joint press conference that seemed more like a comedy routine.

“It is freezing outside, oh my god,” Cobourne cracked. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to play tomorrow. I’m not even going to come out tomorrow.”

Cobourne also tweeted that Bomber castoff Terence Jeffers-Harris, who signed with the Tiger-Cats on Friday, had given Hamilton the entire Winnipeg playbook before adding a few minutes later that he was joking.

There’s no question the Ticats have less to lose on Sunday, and it’s clear the Bombers aren’t going to be happy with a 7-1 start, a 12-point turnaround and a first-place finish.

“We’re not going to settle for less,” cornerback Jovon Johnson said. “If we were to lose the game I don’t think anybody would be happy. We wouldn’t feel as if this season was a success if we were to lose.”


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