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June 29, 2024

The Lede: “We stay together, we’ll be all right.”

Brady Oliveira in last week's game against B.C. -- photos by Cameron Bartlett

CALGARY — There’s a scene in the movie ‘300’ where King Leonidas gathers his vastly out-numbered Spartan warriors against the Persian army and as his troops close ranks, he bellows out this command:

This is where we hold them! This is where we fight!’

Yours truly was reminded of that scene earlier in the Winnipeg Blue Bombers work week in a conversation with running back Brady Oliveira who, while reiterating the faith in his brothers, implored them to stick together and work through their 0-3 start.

And that scene resurfaced in my brain again Friday afternoon as the Blue Bombers arrived at their downtown hotel here in southern Alberta, with a handful of them doing media interviews and the same themes coming at them — what’s happened in this 0-3 start? What’s different from years past? Does the culture need to be rebuilt?

All fair questions, of course.

Look, this is certainly unfamiliar territory for the Blue Bombers. Yet, being around them during the practice week there is still an underlying confidence that comes straight from the veteran core. At the same time, what is also emerging is a bit of an us-against-the-world vibe that might just work in this circumstance. After all, it’s no secret the rest of the Canadian Football League had grown weary of the Blue Bombers advancing to four straight Grey Cups and there are many relishing in their struggles to start the season.

So, this is where the Blue Bombers must rally, eliminate the outside noise and get back to work by swinging the sledgehammer.

This is where they hold them. This is where they fight.

“Nobody in this building is used to this. The fans aren’t used to this. Nobody in the league is used to this from us,” said Oliveira. “But before the season Osh said, ‘It’s going to be different.’ There’s lots of games left and we have the guys go get it done. We’re right there.

“Obviously you’ve got to prove it to yourself first. But whenever anyone doubts you… the guys in this room know what everyone can do. There’s a lot of doubters and haters coming forward right now. That’s why I say we need to stay with each other, stay close and come in here and work together and attack this adversity right in the face to overcome this.”

The reasons for the Blue Bombers first three-game losing streak to open a season since 2012 are many. But it’s not complicated, either. Yes, injuries have ravaged the defensive line and receiving corps. And free agency also saw a handful of starters and difference makers exit.

Still, there’s talent here and the 0-3 start is as much about the simple things as any other. Things like basic execution. And the fix to that is simple.

Nic Demski

“We have four pillars that we stick to as a team,” said Nic Demski earlier this week. “No matter who is wearing the jersey or not, we have to stick to those four pillars and all those four pillars are based around work — work with your teammates, work within the system, be smart… all that stuff. I’m not going to get into the particulars of all the pillars, but it’s all based around hard work.

“Nobody is going to be feeling sorry for ourselves. It’s not about that. We can only control what’s under this roof and when we come here every day, no matter if you’re a 10-year vet or you’re a rookie you’ve got to put on your thinking cap and your hard hat and come out here and play good football. That’s what it’s about here — it’s about the grind and who you do it for and as long as we keep doing it for the right reasons, our teammates, we’re going to be all right.”

That confidence is telling, given that on Friday head coach Mike O’Shea all but confirmed everyone’s worst fears about receiver Dalton Schoen, indicating “It’s looking like it’s going to be the full year. I always hate to say that because you want to give the guy hope and as much as opportunity to come back. But I’m not sure.”

This team could be 2-1, given the last-minute opportunities against both Ottawa and B.C. But, as everyone is aware, it’s not. And with so many new faces in the lineup it might take more time for it to all come together.

Deatrick Nichols

“A team is like a chain. All our links have got to be strong,” defensive back Deatrick Nichols, who returns to the lineup tonight after missing last week, told bluebombers.com. “No matter how big and strong the chain is, if one link is weak it’s going to show, and the chain is going to pop.

“That’s how we approach it around here. There’s no one bigger than someone else. We’re in here together and we’re going to play like that all the time, no matter what.”

Let’s all remember this, too, even as the Blue Bomber bandwagon seems to be thinning. It’s still June, with a ton of highway ahead.

“It’s funny, after every game I’ve been using the quote where we’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror,” said Demski. “But you’ve really got to look around the room and look each other in the eyes and when you do that I think you’re going to have a little bit more fire and a little bit more passion in your heart to play for each other.

“There’s a lot of people that are bought in with the younger roster we have here and the new faces but it’s a great feeling knowing we’re going out there and the guys have our back. We’ve been playing as a team, but each week there’s got to be just a little bit more fire and passion behind it.”

That passion was there as the B.C. game unfolded, especially after Oliveira entered the game and brought a caged-animal approach to lugging the ball. A few days later yours truly brought up the ‘300’ scene in the chat with Oliveira. He grinned, then nodded.

“That’s it, man. We definitely have that mentality right now,” he said. “We still have confidence and knowing that you prepare hard during the week helps give you that peace of mind when you go out there on game day. That’s when you can go kill the doubters, silence the doubters.

“We stay together, we’ll be all right.”