HAMLTON – It’s always about the right here and right now, of course, for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. And yet, it’s now about the history they could make in the 110th Grey Cup with one more epic performance separating them from earning a place as a modern-day Canadian Football League dynasty.
Still, on the eve of Sunday’s championship game against the Montreal Alouettes at Tim Hortons Field, the right here and right now was being talked about at the club’s walk-through practice.
And the other – the dynasty conversation with the potential of three championships in four years – not so much.
“It’s a little bit too big to be thinking about that right now. I guess I’ve seen stuff circulating online, but I just don’t pay it any mind,” said veteran slotback Nic Demski. “I feel like we have to keep winning and then I’ll look back on it one day. Right now, I’m just in the moment and honoured to be on this team.
“We all know what we’re dreaming of doing tomorrow. We’ve just got to make this dream a reality.”
— Nic Demski (@Demski9) November 18, 2023
The Blue Bombers have been an intriguing case study in experience and veteran leadership this week. Collectively, they’ve showcased this been here/done that approach which has been a perfect blend of eyes-forward focus with just the right number of laughs.
No drama. No bulletin board comments. No distractions.
Instead, it’s been a perfect representation of something they’ve said ad nauseum all season: stick to the process.
“We talk about it literally every day. We talk about it so much that it almost gets to the point of being a joke,” said all-star guard Pat Neufeld. “We talk about it all the time and about everything little thing now – even our bathroom breaks – sticking to the process, sticking to the process, sticking to the process.
“But that’s what got us here, too. It’s the thing we can control the most: what we do on a daily basis. We just rely on the work we put in and that brings you a sense of calmness, a sense of confidence, a sense of trust that we’ve just built over time. Trust is something that’s built while going through adversity and we’ve been through a ton of it.
“That other stuff… I guess it’s there in the back of our minds, because you get enough people – family, friends, media – talking about it. It’s just one of those things we have to block out.”
“It’s truly about being in the moment and I’m extremely grateful I get to spend another week with my brothers here, another week to watch tape together, go bullshit with each other in our hotel rooms.
“We’ve had the chance to act like kids for another week here.”
The Blue Bombers are the first CFL team to advance to four consecutive Grey Cups since the Edmonton Eskimos run of 1978-82. That fact alone has fuelled the dynasty discussion.
But it’s nothing without a victory over the Alouettes on Sunday and that’s where last year’s one-point loss to the Toronto Argonauts is a factor. Some have used that defeat as fuel all winter. Others flushed it instantly.
But to many who played in the game, it’s still there, still stinging all these days later.
“I never flushed it. I’ll never forget how I felt that day,” said receiver Rasheed Bailey. “I’ll never forget feeling lost and feeling like I could have done more, or I should have said something or spoken up. I lived with that for a while, but it’s made me a better man, speaker, and leader.
“We’ve been here and having experience in these kind of games serves us well. When you’ve been here so many times you learn so much about yourself. When you’ve won it, you know what it feels like. And when you lose it, you know what you need to do to get yourself back here and a way to get better.
“These last few weeks and these last few months we’ve found ways to get better.”
Added Jamal Parker, the second-year cornerback of last year’s loss: “I couldn’t understand how we lost in that moment. We were in control for so long and the dominoes just didn’t fall our way in the fourth quarter.
“You know, I didn’t watch the Grey Cup film until I got back to Winnipeg in May. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t watch how we lost it. I’m sure for the viewers it was a great game but being on that sideline and seeing how we lost, it just wasn’t a good feeling. Then when you watch the film of last year you can pick a play on offence, defence or special teams that could have changed that game. And we lost by one point.
“That game was always fuel for me.”
The Blue Bombers are 7.5-point favourites entering Sunday and are on a five-game win streak. All week they’ve publicly praised the Als who, in many ways, look a great deal like the 2019 Blue Bombers that went from third place in the West to the winner’s circle. Montreal is on a seven-game heater and knocked off Hamilton before upsetting the Argos in last week’s Eastern Final.
All this – the chance to win three times in four years, the dynasty talk, last year’s one-point loss, the matchup with the Als – makes for an intriguing Grey Cup Sunday.
But, again, stick to the process, live for the right here and right now. That other stuff, well, here’s Parker again to perfectly capture the Blue Bombers theme for the week:
“We know the goal, but we don’t speak about the goal. It’s always about the next day ahead of us.”
More on the Blue Bombers vs. Alouettes in our 110th Grey Cup PLAYBOOK…
THE ‘GTD’ – GAME TIME DECISION – GUYS:
The Blue Bombers depth chart released Saturday morning lists both linebacker Adam Bighill and receiver Dalton Schoen as game-time decisions.
Bighill was carted off the field last week with a calf injury and has not practised all week, while Schoen has been out since early October and missed three games, including last week’s Western Final win over the B.C. Lions.
“We’ll give them every minute possible,” said head coach Mike O’Shea during his media session Saturday. “Whatever the league mandate is that we have to have that thing finalized (30 minutes before kickoff) we’ll use everything right up until the last ditch second. They deserve it.
“I think everyone can agree we’d all like to see them play. They’re two of the best players you’re going to see on the field. So, again, why would we try and limit them? They’re fighting a courageous battle right now trying to do everything they can to get back on.”
If Bighill can’t go, the depth chart lists Malik Clements, Shayne Gauthier and Brian Cole behind him and all three were exceptional in the win over B.C. Schoen, meanwhile, has been replaced by Brendan O’Leary-Orange in the starting lineup.
“We do a really good job of preparing not just our starters, but everybody,” said quarterback Zach Collaros. “Our coaches do a great job of that and our leaders in those position groups take great pride in that. Adam I know takes great pride in getting his linebackers ready to go.
“That being said, those two guys mean so much to our football team. I was talking to Adam last night about just how much it means for him just to be here, just his voice – whether that’s on the field or on the sidelines during practice. I feel the same way about Dalton.
“Again, our guys will be ready to go, but I don’t want to take anything away from how important both those guys are to our team.”
WILLIE AND THE DARK SIDE DEFENCE:
The Alouettes defence has been getting a ton of love this week, and rightfully so, for the work they’ve done this year and especially in last week’s win over Toronto.
The Blue Bombers defence, we would politely point out, led the CFL in almost every category defensively.
“As soon the defence steps on the field we have the opportunity to set the tone for the game,” said defensive end Willie Jefferson. “Win on first down, stopping the run, getting to Cody (Fajardo, Alouettes QB) and making him have a rough day and not letting him outside of the pocket and extend plays with his legs, not letting him run for first downs.
“If we can eliminate that, then we’ll have a good opportunity to have a good game.”
Willie offered up some quality sound bites on Saturday, including this one which really resonates:
“You don’t take things like this for granted. The CFL isn’t big, so everybody pretty much knows everybody. I know somebody who has never been to a Grey Cup, never had the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be at a Grey Cup. Me having this opportunity, I don’t take it for (granted). I have fun. I lock in when I need to lock in, focus up when I need to focus up and when it’s time to go to meetings and practice, I’m a leader. I don’t want guys to slack off and just think that this is just another trip.
“We’re here to handle business. We’re here to take care of business and we’re here to play a game and win.”
One more on Willie and completely unrelated to the above… his rotation of inspirational movies he’ll choose to watch before kickoff includes ‘Enter the Dragon’ starring Bruce Lee, ‘Kill Bill’, ‘Any Given Sunday.’