It’s late in the work week for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, what with just two sleeps until the West Final, and already just about every story angle has been explored and mined leading up to Saturday’s showdown with the B.C. Lions.
Among them: the uncertainty with the Blue Bombers receiving corps due to the health status of stars like Dalton Schoen, Nic Demski and Rasheed Bailey. Or how the defence tries to counter Vernon Adams, Jr., B.C.’s dynamic quarterback. And who might step up to play the hero with so much on the line, whether it’s a star like Zach Collaros, Brady Oliveira, or Kenny Lawler or one of the foot soldiers on special teams.
Well, here’s another storyline which quietly resonates deeply in a Blue Bombers locker room filled with so many veterans and so many familiar faces – they simply just don’t want this thing to end. Not now, and not with the Grey Cup game looming on the horizon.
“You don’t even think about those things until you get to this time of year,” said veteran right tackle Jermarcus Hardrick, a CFL All-Star and the West Division nominee for Most Outstanding Offensive Linemen. “All season you don’t even think about stuff like that. But now it’s, ‘I don’t want this to be the last one with this group.’ The reality is we’re getting older. Nothing is promised. A lot of us have been here a long time but no one knows what’s going to happen after the season.”
“I just want the best thing to happen and keep this going. I want to come into the locker room another week, have fun with the boys and play one more with them. The reality is that might not happen and that’s one of the driving forces right now – it’s why you cross all your T’s and dot all your I’s.
“Hell,” added Hardrick, taking a moment to glance around the locker room, “I’d give up an organ to play one more week with these guys.”
Hardrick giggled then at his own overly dramatic analogy, but it’s been a common refrain in Bomberland all week. Undoubtedly the same themes are playing out in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal – home of the CFL’s Final Four – because the successful teams are invariably the most cohesive teams.
And for a squad like the Blue Bombers which has had so little turnover the last few years and is aiming to get to a fourth straight championship game, that’s especially true.
“We love each other on this team; guys really get along. We’re like brothers on this team,” said defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. “We definitely want a chance to continue to play, continue to play together and to be together and win championships.”
Maybe it’s simply recency bias, but the Lions and their explosive offence have dominated much of the conversation swirling around the Blue Bombers and across the CFL this week. After all, Adams, Jr. is coming off a sensational performance in B.C.’s 41-30 win over Calgary in last week’s West Semi-Final, as he threw for 413 yards and two TDs while rushing for three more.
“Hat’s off to him. B.C. goes as far as he goes and when he’s on, they’re rolling,” said defensive tackle Ricky Walker. “He does a great job of extending plays with his legs and he can make a guy miss in the open field. He keeps plays extended with those scramble plays.
“Even going back to our last game with them he definitely did that on a few plays, especially on second and long, and we couldn’t get off the field because of his scrambling. He’s a helluva player.”
But the Blue Bombers also know this after seven consecutive seasons of playoff football: it’s all about controlling what you can control.
“I respect the hell out of B.C.,” said Hardrick. “I respect their D-linemen – (Mathieu) Betts, Woody Baron, Dave Menard, all of them – and seeing the way they play if I was their coach, I’d be very proud. They play hard. We respect them, but fear no one. Like I said I’m just excited to go to battle with my family.
“Bottom line is our confidence comes from our preparation, not from anything that’s happened in the past. Our confidence comes from what we’ve built on all week.”
To that end, Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea described Thursday’s closed-to-the-media practice session this way:
“Energetic. Professional. Positive. All good. Excited.”
And, again, so much of that is built on this team’s core and the simple desire for one more week. The chance – and go ahead and roll your eyes here at the cliché – to go 1-0 this week for the shot to go 1-0 in the next.
“It’s playoff football time now,” added Walker. “It’s balls to the wall, win or go home, do anything you can for your brother, sacrifice and leave it all out there.
“This time as a team is coming to an end and we all want to make this worth it. Guys are locked in during the meetings and on the field. It’s just that time. The snow is falling, it’s colder, you can just feel it. We want more of that.”
Further to that, here’s O’Shea when asked about the health status of Nic Demski and Rasheed Bailey:
“Nic and Sheed were out there running around today a little bit. Once again, those guys don’t ever need to practice… we’re fine putting them in. But they were out there running around a bit, going through the paces, getting a workout.”