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September 27, 2017

BLOG | The Turning Point

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols (15) looks for the pass against the the Edmonton Eskimos during first half CFL action in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday July 28, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson.

Well over a year ago, in Week 6 of the 2016 CFL season to be exact, we headed to Edmonton for a matchup that was ripe for the storylines.

We were 1-4.

We hadn’t won at Commonwealth Stadium in a decade.

We had just made a massive decision to change starting quarterbacks, moving on from our entrenched starter.

We were starting a rookie Canadian safety.

We were starting a rookie guard.

From the outside, the team was in turmoil. And to all those outside of Investors Group Field, the team was on the verge of another lost season. The vultures were circling overhead, with some suggesting that Coach would be fired if we had lost that night. That is and was a fallacy, for the record. In fact, we could have lost that game by 50 and it still wouldn’t have even come up in discussion. That’s a fact.

I write about this game back in July of 2016 because we return to Edmonton this weekend. Always a tough place to play for a variety of reasons, and yes, we haven’t had much success there over the years. But on that night last July, something changed; and not just the starting quarterback, safety and lineman. To me, it was that rainy night in Edmonton that turned around the fortunes of the franchise, and began to build the identity the team holds today.

The team is 19-6 since that game – and 10-3 on the road. Look, make no mistake – players heard the criticism. The inaccurate suggestions about a pending firings. The record in Edmonton. But it’s there where the linemen began spiking the football after touchdowns, where Andrew Harris started ploughing guys over as a Bomber, and where Matt Nichols started his reign as a potential league MOP.

Before going out for kick-off, Jamaal Westerman spoke; “Don’t look up the scoreboard, just be physical. Physical in your one-on-one battles. Physical all *** day, till the fourth quarter and then we’ll look up and see who the *** won. From the **** handshake.”

He continued, in essence, by saying, ‘don’t listen to everyone else tell us we can’t do it. Listen to the 44 guys in this room that know we can.’

The game started with an opening drive that set the tone for not only that game, but where we would be heading. Two long Matt Nichols passes to Weston Dressler; one for 21, one for 39. A few Andrew Harris runs. And then a one-yard touchdown rumble on third down by Andrew, who handed the ball to Jermarcus Hardrick for the spike. And off we went. It was just 7-0, but it meant so much more.

There was a rain delay – one of a handful we’ve now encountered since that night – a late surge by a very good Edmonton team, and the start of a seven-game winning streak. And in my view, a night that turned around the franchise. A night that made the team what it is today, what it continues to be. Who knows where this season will end, and heck, what will even happen come Saturday evening in Edmonton. But make no mistake, the last time our charter’s wheels lifted off of the Edmonton runway late that Thursday evening, it was the beginning of the brightest days this franchise has seen in years.