June 4, 2024

48 Hour Primer | 2024 Home Opener

Willie Jefferson -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

We could simply frame this as a Grey Cup rematch because, in the most basic of terms, that’s exactly what it is with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Montreal Alouettes meeting for the first time since last November’s championship game.

So, in that respect, we give you this…

“There’s definitely going to be some bad blood,” said Blue Bombers receiver Drew Wolitarsky as the club completed its final full practice before Wednesday’s walk-through and the CFL curtain raiser Thursday night at Princess Auto Stadium. “It’s not the exact same teams, obviously, because there have been roster changes, but it’s going to be two fighters who think they’re the best going into another fight.

“I wouldn’t call it a ‘Grey Cup rematch’ because we’ve got a long way to go. We’ve got to earn that again, but there will be bad blood.”

“We’re not looking at it as a Grey Cup rematch,” added defensive end Willie Jefferson. “We’re looking at it as the first game of the season, the first real game since last year and we’re just ready to go out there and give it our all.

“It does feel like — for the guys that were here last year — the thing in the back of our mind is that we finally get to stick it to the guys that beat us last year for the championship.”

Pull back wider from that perspective and there’s something bigger at play here and a narrative that could shape the entire Blue Bombers season. The Alouettes are looking to defend their title, while the home side is seeking to reclaim the throne while their championship window is still open.

Montreal is still riding the wave of success — a joyous offseason capped by the presentation of their championship rings — while Winnipeg is trying to recover from the emotional scars of losing the last two Grey Cups by a total of five points.

To that end, Wolitarsky spoke Tuesday of how the new faces in the locker room have brought a new energy and how that can be revitalizing. Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea concurred with that sentiment wholeheartedly.

Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea

“It’s always interesting when there’s fresh blood and a new perspective,” he said. “It’s nice when an older vet gets to listen to how the young guy sees it and gets to stand back and watch as they go through things for the first time. That certainly gets the juices flowing, for sure.

“There’s always a new energy when you get new guys in the building and young guys are getting their opportunities. It does really energize the team.”

All that — old meets new and shelving any lingering negative emotions from last November — begins to transform into something different when the ball is put on the tee Thursday night. As O’Shea often hammers home, there is a different team with a different story to write each year — even one with so much continuity.

Yet this hasn’t changed: this 2024 edition of the Blue Bombers once again has the highest of expectations. To that end, O’Shea was asked about an overall take on his squad as the season approaches.

“I think we’re going to be good,” he said. “If you asked me six months ago I would have said, ‘We’re going to be good.’ When you fill in those pieces that you’re looking for — and they were good pieces when they came in — it’s nice to see how they fit. The core group has remained the same and they’re all very talented, all-in, very committed guys. It was an easy answer six months ago and it’s easier now.

“I don’t know what the record is going to look like, but the team is going to be very, very good. And everybody that was on the team before is committed when they go away (in the offseason) like every professional athlete does, like every Olympian, like every guy who is playing a high level sport — they commit in the offseason to be better than they were. I understand the commitment level is high.

“These guys are high character, extremely committed individuals so they took the offseason and they committed to be better. If you understand that, I believe we’re going to be better.”

Factoids: The June 6th CFL opener will be the earliest in league history, eclipsing last year’s season-opening game on June 8th… The Blue Bombers and Alouettes have met in season openers six previous times with — close your eyes, Bomber fans — Montreal posting a perfect 6-0 mark with wins in 2016, 2013, 2006, 2000, 1998 and 1985… The CFL compiled a list of the oldest-to-youngest clubs based on the June 4th rosters. The Blue Bombers are again the oldest at 28.7 years and with the veterans averaging 62 games, but the difference between them and the youngest is marginal — Hamilton is the youngest at 27.6 years, with Edmonton’s veterans averaging 41.2 games, lowest in the league.

FYI: The Blue Bombers held a closed-to-the-media practice on Tuesday but we did get a bit of a hint as to what the roster will look like Thursday against the Als with the daily injury report. Both DE TyJuan Garbutt and safety Jake Kelly have been ruled out, along with LB Adam Bighill, DB Jamal Parker and DT Cam Lawson who were all moved to the six-game injured list during camp.

The depth chart for Thursday’s game will be released Wednesday morning, FYI.

ICYMI: We were joined by the always-engaging Sergio Castillo on Tuesday’s latest episode of our new show, ‘The Huddle’ on the Blue Bombers YouTube channel. In case you missed it live, or any of our other episodes, check them out here.