WINNIPEG - It was billed as nothing more than a photo-opp, a grip-and-grin for attention-seeking politicians who love to rub shoulders with pro sports types.
The scene, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ new, 33,500-seat stadium under construction down at the U of M campus.
The suits included Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, CFL commissioner Mark Cohon and Bomber president/CEO Garth Buchko.
The mucky-mucks were to pose for a few pictures and take a guided tour of the construction site — a happy day, as Buchko described it.
By the time the smiles and handshakes were completed, though, there was your favourite football team with yet another trace of egg on its face.
On a Monday that wasn’t supposed to be about a stadium construction update, we got one anyway, courtesy of Rick Graumann, vice-president with Stuart Olson Dominion, the company in charge of the project.
In conversation with a few media types who weren’t satisfied with the grip-and-grin, or interested in the colour of Buchko’s and Cohon’s socks (I kid you not), Graumann let a rather tame kitty out of the bag.
“We’ve had some challenges the last few weeks, with the heavy rain and the high winds,” Graumann began.
Uh-oh. What was coming next was easier to predict than a Coach LaPo play call. The Bombers were going to make like an NFL team and call their third timeout.
Things didn’t pan out for the first pre-season game, they fell through for July 26 and now they were going to admit they can’t make Sept. 21, either.
That’s almost what happened, but not quite.
Continuing the corny football analogies, the quarterback is looking confused at the line of scrimmage and gazing to the bench for direction.
“It will be a challenge,” Graumann said of hucking pig in the new park by September. “Getting to a point of game readiness between now and then... we have had some very tough weather conditions the last couple of weeks that have shut us down, quite literally. Heavy rains and high winds.
“We are in the process of evaluating the schedule at this stage.”
Clearly, this revelation wasn’t in the day’s script.
Because the commissioner and the politicians were blissfully unaware of any change in plans.
And Buchko, if he suspected as much, wasn’t saying, suggesting it was too soon to make that call. Later in the week, he’d know more.
The fact opening day is even in question, after the Bombers so confidently declared Sept. 21 the latest possible day of their housewarming party — they were optimistic it could actually be Sept. 9 — is lousy optics, and should make every fan pray they’re more on the ball over on the football side of things.
I get why they want to get into their new digs, ASAP.
If you do the math, every game the Bombers play in the old place probably costs them $300,000 in lost ticket and suite revenue alone, never mind concessions and lost advertising opportunities.
But there comes a point where the hassles of switching homes, midstream, isn’t worth it.
I know Bomber brass already considered postponing the grand opening until next season when they were faced with playing half their games at the Ruins at Polo Park.
If the number of games at the $195-million park dwindles from five to two or three, it’s best to do what I first suggested back in April.
With an opening day that continues to be as elusive as Charles Roberts in his prime, it’s time to take that third timeout and whatever flags go with it and turn to a different page of the playbook.
See you in 2013.