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August 6, 2022

Upon Further Review | WPG 35 MTL 20

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros fires a pass as they face the Montreal Alouettes during first quarter CFL football action in Montreal on Thursday, August 4, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

They are the phrases and terms which have become part of the lexicon with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and, by extension, their loyal and rabid fan base.

And as the wins continue to pile up at a historic pace for the two-time defending Grey Cup champions, those expressions might as well be chiseled into stone tablets as the club’s commandments.

You’ve all heard them over the last few years, consistently trotted out by head coach Mike O’Shea, anyone who works at IG Field and those who religiously follow a club that is 26-3 with two championships dating back to the end of 2019. The most popular include:

  • ‘Go 1-0 this week’
  • ‘Next man up’
  • ‘FIFO – ‘Fit In Or (bleep) Off’
  • ‘Find a Way’

And now, based on what we heard in the aftermath of Thursday’s 35-20 victory over the Montreal Alouettes in Quebec in a street fight, we have a potential new entry:

‘Embrace the grind.’

It certainly fits based on the hellish stretch of schedule the Blue Bombers just finished; a run that saw them play six games in 32 days with five of them on the road and including three straight away from IG Field. Just for the record, that’s also unofficially 15,188 kilometres in the air and limited practice times as a result, making the run even that much more impressive.

And nary a soul in Blue Bombers colours has complained a lick about this difficult run.

“The stretch that we’ve got right now, no doubt it’s tough and it’s a hard one and it’s a grind,” said Blue Bombers running back Brady Oliveira after the win in Montreal. “But everyone in this locker room loves the grind and we embrace the grind. We love the process and it’s getting us better. Every single week you see us building and building and building and getting better even though we’ve had this long stretch and it’s a grind.

“O’Shea preaches it to us and we’re just falling in love with it.”

The club’s ninth straight win to open the 2022 season – a first in these parts since the 1960 squad opened that year 10-0 – was all about embracing the grind as the Blue Bombers overcame a four-turnover night by the offence by bringing the hammer down when it mattered most with three consecutive TDs with the score tied 14-14 in the fourth quarter.

It began with Dakota Prukop capping a nine-play 85-yard drive with a QB-sneak TD, followed by an Alouettes two-and-out possession which ended with a Jackson Jeffcoat sack and was promptly followed by a Janarion Grant 57-yard punt-return score. Then, with less than three minutes to go, Adam Bighill’s interception at Montreal’s 17-yard line set up a TD run by Oliveira.

“… On the sidelines there was just so much belief,” said Oliveira. “That word ‘Grind’ – fall in love with the grind, embrace the grind and that’s exactly what we did.”

More on the Blue Bombers ninth straight win to open the season in this week’s UPON FURTHER REVIEW

ONE OF THE OTHER TRADEMARKS OF THE O’SHEA ERA IS… how many fingerprints are always all over every win with Thursday night, as per usual, following that script.

It was Grant with his punt-return TD, but also with one reception and three runs for 43 yards – as one bluebombers.com regular pointed out, he also finished with three tackles, two of them coming after interceptions, the third after a fumble.

It was Ricky Walker, coming off the practice roster to chip in with two tackles and a sack.

It was Winston Rose with a team-high six tackles and an interception.

It was Oliveira rushing for 92 yards on 17 carries.

It was Drew Wolitarsky leading the club with 90 yards on five receptions.

It was Dalton Schoen and Rasheed Bailey being on the receiving end of Zach Collaros TD strikes.

“That was a wild game. That was a dogfight,” said Oliveira. “We know every team is going to bring their ‘A’ game when they play us in this league.

“We prepare very hard all week because we know what we’re going to expect on game days and the fact that all three phases were clicking – the defence with some big turnovers, Janarion in the return game making some plays for us and obviously on offence us getting to work out there. It was all three phases and when you do that, you’ll be in great shape to win a football game.”

ONE MORE ON OLIVEIRA BECAUSE… he was under the microscope earlier in the year as the run game struggled to find consistent traction.

Consider this, though: after being limited to just eight yards rushing on nine carries in the home win over Calgary a few weeks ago, Oliveira has rushed for 264 yards in the last three games – including a 5.9-yards per carry average – and two touchdowns.

“I stuck to it,” he said. “Yeah, it was tough at times and hard at times, but I kept my head down. The guys in the locker room really believed in me, the coaches believed in me, and I knew it was going to come. It was tough in the beginning, but it feels good now.

“I’ve got that confidence and I’m running a lot smoother, hitting it a lot harder and playing my kind of football, which is a north-and-south, physical runner.”

A NUMBER WE SHOULD PROBABLY BE TALKING MORE ABOUT… is this: Janarion Grant now has six return touchdowns – five on punts and the game-opening kickoff return against B.C. earlier this year – in just 26 games as a member of the Blue Bombers.

Just to put that into perspective, that unofficially ties him with Keith Stokes for the club’s all-time lead. Stokes’ six return scores came in 37 games during his days as a Blue Bomber.

FYI, the all-time leader in kick-return TDs is the Edmonton great Henry ‘Gizmo’ Williams, who had 31 in 203 games, followed by Bashir Levingston, who had 15 in 78 games with Toronto and Montreal and current Toronto Argonauts receiver Brandon Banks, who has had 13 in 118 games.

Unofficially, there are only 11 players in CFL history who have had more punt and kickoff return TDs than Grant, and his pace – with six in the 26 games – is astonishing. Consider this: one of the great returners in this game – Mike ‘Pinball’ Clemons, had eight touchdowns in a career that covered 185 games.

FYI: Didn’t notice the air-horn noise from the game in Montreal the other night, but then again, yours truly had a headset on all night while working the CJOB broadcast with Derek Taylor. In rewatching the telecast, it was noticeably annoying, with the TSN play-by-play crew of Rod Smith and Duane Forde mentioning it, as did the panel. Just for the record:

  • A stat that should be pointed out, just because: the Blue Bombers are unbeaten in games in which President and CEO Wade Miller tweets out a guarantee beforehand. Worth noting: the Blue Bombers boss doesn’t have a Twitter account.
  • For those interested in more information on the Scott Naujoks Memorial Coaching Award, it can be found here.

QUOTABLE:

Mike O’Shea on the club being 9-0 at the halfway mark, including having six wins on the road:

“Honestly, it doesn’t even register like that – not to me, not to our coaching staff, not to our players. These are games on the schedule that you’ve got to play wherever you’ve got to play them. I don’t know that being on the road is the issue. I think it’s a great time for the players to get together and hang out, compared to the previous year where you weren’t allowed to leave the hotel. This is special and a great time for the players.”