Underdog Bombers a team of destiny
The 99th Grey Cup takes place today in the marvelously revamped B.C. Place stadium in downtown Vancouver.
The storylines heading into the classic are once again compelling.
The B.C. Lions began the season by losing five straight. It appeared as though legendary coach Wally Buono was heading toward the end of his coaching tenure in Lotusland. Cries were out for his head and to blow up the team.
But Buono is a legend for a reason and thanks to the MVP play of quarterback Travis Lulay and a gut-checking super show by the team defence, the Lions hit the brakes, following a 30-17 beat down by the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on August 13. They never looked back, winning eight straight to follow and 11 of their last 12 games.
They get to play in front of 54,000 home town fans today, mixed in with howling maniacs from the rest of the country, too. One is forgiven for assuming the Lions have the momentum heading into the cup final.
But they’re facing Team Adversity. The Bombers were 4-14 last year. Yes, they set a new league record for the most wins by four points or fewer (nine) and their defence appeared to be coming into a pretty wicked form, but league prognosticators had the Bombers being the bottom feeders again this season.
A seven win and one loss start shot those views to poop and Swaggerville was born.
Cockiness and braggadocio are common in football but that was too much. As soon as the Bombers began to swagger, their opponents started bearing down more to make them eat it. Right Saskatchewan Roughrider fans?
At the same time, the Bombers, and the Canadian Football League fraternity, suffered an enormous loss when defensive line coach Richard Harris suffered a fatal heart attack.
The Bombers won their next game for Coach Harris but struggled down the stretch, winning three of nine. Always-injured quarterback Buck Pierce was in and out of the lineup, always nursing some kind of ailment and some other key injuries hit the club, including the loss of defensive captain and smash mouth linebacker Joe Lobendahn. It seemed as though things were taking a serious nose dive when the club lost Pierce, starting running back Fred Reid and backup running back Carl Volny in the same game.
Despite their struggles, the Bombers showed huge grit by beating the Montreal Alouettes to seal first in the East. The addition of tiny running back Chris Garrett, who looks like an angry ewok when he’s scampering around on the field, was an in-season stroke of luck. Garrett was cut by the Bombers during training camp but kept himself in shape in case a call would come. It did and he responded by putting up the best running games in the league this season, including a 190 yard masterpiece against the Hamilton Tiger Cats in the East final.
The team will be hitting the field today with the league’s best defense – a classic Blue Bomber brand of high flying mouth-smashers. While the offence, under Buck Pierce is hit and miss, the D is something to watch. It’s been a true treat to watch Winnipeg’s defense perform this year and Coach Harris is beaming from on high.
Defense wins championships. But don’t count out the Lions because their defense is a close second to the Bombers.
The Bombers are going to want to win this game for two special outside reasons beyond each player’s own desires. The first will be for Coach Harris. There will be plenty of heart-taps and points to the heavens today.
They are also going to want to win this game for defensive line legend Doug Brown, who is retiring after today’s game. The 38-year-old, 6’8” gronk, who is a lock for the hall of fame, has never won a cup. This will be his third kick at the cat and you can bet your farm that the Bombers are going to be feeling extra drive and snarl to do that much more in order to send one of the greatest Blue Bombers of all time to retirement a champion.
Legendary Bomber received Milt Stegall has been around the festivities this week and you can also bet there have been fingers pointed at him, by older players to younger Bomber players, noting how sometimes the greats leave the game without a ring on their finger. It was a true shame that the brilliant Stegall never won a cup. Ditto for Brown should the Bombers falter this day.
But they’re not going to.
This has been a team of destiny from the get-go this year. This team reminds me of the 1988 Bombers, who entered the Grey Cup against the B.C. Lions as the most penalized team in CFL history. They were led by a quarterback from nowhere (Sean Salisbury) and a classic smashmouth D and they did what they were not supposed to do.
This time around, the Bombers are not as prone to on-field brain farts, actually have their starting quarterback leading them onto the field (how long he stays in is another matter), have the necessary ‘must-haves’ to win a championship and have more than enough incentive.
That is why I predict a 27-19 Blue Bomber victory today.
And yes, I am a homer. Go Bombers!