WINNIPEG - You can call it an early-season statement game about who’s ready to rule the CFL East, if you want to. But I’m looking for more modest gains from Friday night’s tilt between the Blue Bombers and Alouettes in Montreal. Specifically, I’d like to see the Bombers show us they actually have a clue on offence.
Show us the move from head coach Paul LaPolice calling the plays to Gary Crowton was more than just window-dressing to appease those demanding change. Show us we’re not in for another year of watching the defence keep games close, while the offence tags along for the ride. Because the only thing matching the anticipation of the Big Blue’s new attack in its season debut last week was the ineptness of it.
Crowton’s much-ballyhooed new playbook looked more like a crinkled up copy of Mike Kelly’s that somebody pulled from the trash bin. No huddle had no chance. Sure, injuries were a factor.
You don’t take tailback Chris Garrett, receiver Cory Watson and starting tackles Glenn January and Andre Douglas out without some repercussions. Early-season rust and the B.C. Lions defence had something to do with it, too. But Montreal’s defence isn’t B.C.’s.
After a disastrous end to a rocky 2011 campaign that saw the Als defence leaking points and yardage at an alarming rate, it underwent a complete rebuild. Last week, in a loss to Calgary, it looked about as shaky as the Winnipeg offence.
Friday night, these two movable forces and their first-year architects collide, Air Crowton trying to get his three-down feet under him against Coach Harley, aka Jeff Reinebold, who holds more than a passing Winnipeg connection.
For those too young to remember — or who’ve simply blocked it out — Reinebold oversaw one of the darkest two-year periods in Bomber history, 1997-98, producing 4-14 and 3-15 records that had longtime fans scurrying for cover.
Now here he is, again holding some of the cards that could throw a wrench into Winnipeg’s plan to end a Grey Cup drought that’s grown to an enormous 21 years. You’d think Montreal, at 10-8 along with the Bombers but ranked second last season, is due for a fall in the CFL East.
For years the Als have been the gold standard, refusing to yield their place atop the division until last year’s blip. If you’re tired of hearing how good quarterback Anthony Calvillo and Co. are, you’ve got company.
“According to TSN they’ve got three of the top 10 players in the league, and they all play on offence,” Winnipeg corner-turned-linebacker Brandon Stewart said, sounding a tad miffed at the praise everybody keeps throwing at the Als. “They have their entitlement.”
But do they still have their mystique?
“They’re 0-1 just like us,” Stewart said. “And it’s an East Division game. We’re trying to get our points. We don’t care who we’re lining up against, we’re going to the East and trying to get a win.”
The Bombers did just that in their only visit to La Belle Province in 2011, going on to take the season series, 2-1, which ultimately led to Winnipeg hosting the East Final and reaching the Grey Cup.
“I really haven’t used that,” head coach Paul LaPolice said. “Because it’s a new year. I just want us to worry about us.”
Fair enough. After last week, though, a lot of people who’ve waited a long time for a really good football team would like to quit worrying. Worrying that yet another Grey Cup loss won’t lead to yet another fall from contention.
So never mind the statements, Friday night.
A little hope will do.