June 30, 2012
Where's the local blood on the Bombers?
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - Going into his third season generally managing the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Joe Mack has proven his ability to unearth talent from south of the border.
Need an import running back, receiver, defensive back or D-lineman from the enormous talent pool in the U.S., and Mack has held his own.
But what about finding players from his own back yard?
Take a close look at CFL rosters and you find a real curiosity.
The Bombers are the only CFL team without a local player on the roster or injured list.
The last Winnipegger to play for his hometown team was D-lineman Don Oramasionwu, who bolted to Edmonton as a free agent this past off-season when Mack didn’t even try to keep him.
By comparison, every other team has at least five homegrown players on their roster or injured list, the Argonauts leading the way with 13 players born in Ontario.
If you want a more comparable province, how about the 10 Saskatchewan-born players living their dream on the Riders payroll, including high-profile starters Chris Getzlaf and Brendon LaBatte?
LaBatte left the Bombers to be closer to home. Why hasn’t that happened in reverse?
If you grow up playing football in Alberta, the Eskimos and Stampeders have a place for you — a dozen Alberta-born boys play for those teams, combined.
Living as a kid in the football-mad province of Quebec, you can dream about playing for the Alouettes, as they carry eight Quebecers.
The B.C. Lions aren’t loaded with local boys, but they haven’t allowed longtime center Angus Reid and receiver Paris Jackson to go anywhere.
The only Winnipegger who can call himself a Blue Bomber this season is receivers coach Marcus Howell.
So, what gives?
“There’s two thoughts to that,” Howell said. “Montreal does a good job of that. Saskatchewan does, too. But they might be drawing from a bigger pool of guys, too. The Ontario kids (too)... it’s great if you can do that.
“But at the end of the day you’ve got to pick the best athletes. And we do a good job of it. If you look at our Canadian crop, they’re pretty good athletes. Winnipeg-born or not.”
That may be. And there’s no doubt other provinces produce more football players than Manitoba, so their odds of landing people on hometown teams are greater.
But to have none at all?
Seven Manitobans are currently playing in the CFL, including Winnipegger Andrew Harris, a budding star starting at running back for the Lions against the Bombers, Friday night.
You’d think one of them would have found his way to Winnipeg, and stayed.
Howell snuck into Winnipeg Stadium as a kid, idolizing players like James Murphy. After going to college in the U.S., he pulled on a Bomber jersey for real as a player (2000-03, ’10), before joining the team as a coach last year.
“It’s a pride thing,” he said. “I get to represent my hometown. It’s all been a dream, man. I get to grow up here, play ball here and now coach here — you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Winnipeg’s football history is rich in local talent, from Gerry James and Henry Janzen during the first dynasty to Leo Ezerins, Chris Walby and Stan Mikawos from later eras.
There’s nothing quite like playing at home, before family and friends, for the team you grew up watching. It brings out a little more, from the player and the fans.
“Of course, you get a little more love,” Howell said. “The crowd kind of remembers you no matter what you do. It’s heartfelt and you love it. Eventually we’ll be able to go get some Winnipeg kids.”
Let’s hope so.
Until then, it’s the one glaring hole in Joe Mack’s scouting net.
CFLers, by team, playing in their home province