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June 19, 2024

48-Hour Primer | B.C. at WPG

Willie Jefferson -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

 

It’s a ‘talker’, that’s for sure, and with the subject no doubt tossed around at the office cafeteria or at your favourite watering hole. That’s simply a given with these things.

Call it prime ‘click bait’, too, if you like. After all, ‘Power Rankings’ in sports — the Canadian Football League, included — are meant to engage fans across the country, with many regularly frothing at the mouth if their squad is near the bottom and others planning a Grey Cup parade if they see their bunch at the top spot, be it June or November.

Over the last few years the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and their faithful have been accustomed to seeing their ranking at or near the top of these weekly lists. That’s what a 51-19 record over the last few seasons does and over time the power rankings have essentially led to a collective shrug of the shoulders in Bomberland.

Still, while the latest rankings are to be expected after an 0-2 start featuring some obvious warts, seeing the Blue Bombers ranked dead last, well, that’s… different.

“You see the power rankings… it is different because we’ve never seen ourselves in that spot. Since I’ve been here that’s never occurred,” said veteran receiver Nic Demski. “It’s different, but I guess it’s a little bit of motivation.”

“It’s something you have to block out,” added defensive end Willie Jefferson. “Everybody pays attention to social media and the news and things, so we see it, we just choose not to acknowledge it. Right now we just want to show we’re ready to play Winnipeg football.

“From the outside looking in it’s, ‘Oh, what’s going on? Is this what it’s going to be like for the season?’ But from the inside looking out, we’re not hitting the panic button. We’ve got some great guys on the team — offence, defence and special teams — and we just need to start clicking. Make plays, get off the field on defence. Make plays, put the ball in the end zone on offence. And then when it comes to special teams do what they need to do to get the ball in good field position for the offence.

“It’s early in the season. But people aren’t used to seeing us play like this; aren’t used to seeing us go 0-2 and losing.”

All of that has led to a tone around the club this week which could best be described as workmanlike, with the vibe described by Jefferson as ‘intense.’ That’s understandable, given this is an organization unaccustomed to staring up at the rest of the division and having not started a season 0-2 since 2016.

There isn’t one single area hurting the club through the losses to Montreal and Ottawa but, instead, a number of them.

And so, the reaction to the latest Power Rankings? We’ve been around enough Blue Bomber teams over the years to state that some editions would have photocopied that list and had it pinned up in every player’s locker as a source of motivation. This squad? No chance.

We offer up an exchange with head coach Mike O’Shea on Wednesday as evidence when he was asked about the Power Rankings.

O’Shea (grinning): “What are those?”

Reporter: “Is that what you would call ‘outside noise’?”

O’Shea: “I don’t think we’d call it anything. That would probably be giving it too much if we actually labelled it.”

Reporter: “So you don’t have it photocopied and pinned up in the locker room?”

O’Shea: “Nooo. We’re not a bulletin board team. Outside motivation is not that at all. It all comes from within.”

Now, let’s be clear here: on the list of 100 things the Blue Bombers have focussed on this week, the CFL’s Power Rankings would come in at around 1,786,831,472nd. Or thereabouts.

Nic Demski

“I could give you the cliché answer and say I don’t pay attention to it. But do I see it? 100 percent I see it. It is what it is,” said safety Brandon Alexander. “That’s the media’s job to put the teams where they think they should be. That’s how they keep the fans engaged. At the end of the day, it’s what happens at the end that matters. We’ve seen teams that were ranked ninth win the championship, so…

“That’s their job in the media. Our job is to be in here doing what we need to do getting our camaraderie together, getting our team together making sure we’re on our cues. Stuff like that is outside noise. As soon as you walk into this building it’s all about football. As soon as you step onto the field it’s all about football. Anything from the outside you can’t take with you onto the field — you can’t take family matters with you on the field, you can’t take power rankings with you out on the field.

“The only thing you can take out there is this: my brother is right next to me and he needs me, so I need to do my job to the best of my ability and he’ll do the same. That’s all that matters.

“Every year is different. Sometimes it takes more time. You want it to be now that it clicks, you work for it to be now. That’s what we’re working on.

“We know what we can do. We’ve just got to play cohesive football.”

OUCH UPDATE: Wednesday’s practice session was closed to the media. O’Shea did confirm that DB Deatrick Nichols did not practice and offered this when asked about Brady Oliveira, who missed last week’s loss in Ottawa:

“Brady’s been working pretty damn hard. Al (Couture, head athletic therapist) puts him through the paces every day and then we see how he is after the workout.

“The real question you want to know is, ‘Is Brady going to play?’ I don’t have that answer yet. We’ll see how he feels later today. I know he’s doing another training/therapy session right now. I know he’s busting his ass. Where that puts him come (Thursday) morning, I don’t know yet. We always give them the benefit of the doubt.”