Ed Tait is a writer for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. This article was originally published at BlueBombers.com.
We are generous sorts here in this province. Quick to volunteer, eager to donate to charities and willing to help our fellow man.
Yet, if the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are to take another step in their evolution, they absolutely, positively must stop taking this ‘Friendly Manitoba’ slogan so literally and make this town a nasty stop for all comers.
And a good time to start would be Friday night when the mighty Calgary Stampeders pay a visit for the Bombers’ 2017 home opener.
Consider, as evidence, a few numbers as they relate to the Bombers at home and home openers:
- The Bombers are 7-4 in their last 11 home openers, but have dropped their last two
- During a run from 1990-95 – a six-year stretch that featured the club’s last championship and three Grey Cup appearances – the Bombers were a remarkable 45-9 at home
- In the 1980s, the Bombers had just one losing season at home and went 31-3 at old Winnipeg Stadium from 1984-87
And now the ugly:
- The Bombers were 4-5 at Investors Group Field last season, the fourth consecutive year with a losing record
- Winnipeg is just 11-25 at IGF, the worst home record in the CFL over the last four years
CFL HOME RECORDS SINCE 2013
Now, there was some evidence last year – although a small sample size – that the Bombers were starting to finally make IGF a tough tour stop for their CFL rivals. After dropping their first three home games, the Bombers went on a 4-2 run to finish the year. It reinforced the fact that, coupled with a league-best 7-2 road record, had the Bombers had an even modestly successful home campaign instead of 4-5, there might have been a home playoff game here last November.
“It comes down to us,” began Bombers running back Andrew Harris after practice on Wednesday. “There could be two people in here for a game or 30,000, we’ve still got to win football games. The fans definitely make a difference, but at the end of the day it’s on us. And we’ve got to be better at home.”
No argument there. The Bombers have just three winning home records in the last 12 years. Winning consistently at home builds that nasty-place-to-play reputation. This fan base has been loyal and the Bombers want to rekindle a love affair with their fan base and have IGF so loud visiting teams have to make adjustments in practice leading up to the game to account for the noise – just as they had to do last week before heading into new Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
“We love it when a quarterback has to call a time out because he can’t communicate with his running back or offensive linemen,” said Westerman.
“Hopefully this year we come out and continue to be loud, continue to be obnoxious and continue to be crazy and get the other team out of sync. I’ve seen guys on sidelines get taken out of their games because fans were talking junk to them. It’s supposed to be in good fun and good taste, but you don’t want any team to enjoy coming here.”
“You want them to be saying, ‘Oh man, I hate playing in Winnipeg. Their fans are so loud and always on our backs.’ Our fans have shown they can do that here.”
Now, there’s no magic formula for building a homefield advantage. It comes with dominating year after year at home, and often, it’s built courtesy of a defensive backbone. Those Bomber teams in the 1980s and 1990s had a lot of common traits, first and foremost being a stellar defence.
But there’s another key: Often that homefield dominance comes simply from delivering the first punch. Consider that in the 36 games played at IGF, the Bombers have led after the first quarter just 11 times (three others were ties). And that’s something the Bombers want to change and change fast.
“One of the keys is to capture and hold on to momentum,” said veteran cornerback Chris Randle. “If there are opportunities where we can get a lead, we’ve got to stay in the lead and have a blowout. I can’t really remember that many games where we’ve been in charge from beginning to the end. I realize that’s pretty hard to do in this league, but if you look at teams that have that homefield advantage, that’s their thing: they build off momentum and maintain it.
“The teams that have a reputation as having homefield advantage also have a history of winning. It’s about the fan base and the culture of the team that make a place tough to play.”
“Since I’ve been here, regardless of what has happened, this fan base has been tremendous. The history of this team is here. Now we want to be in the position where we control our own destiny and set and meet a high standard. It starts with winning at home.”
“Look, winning each game is important, but I think winning at home means just that much more.”
BOMBER REPORT – July 5, 2017
The Blue Bombers wrapped up their final full practice in advance of their 2017 home opener Friday against the Calgary Stampeders (1-0-1).
Here are three things you should know as the club completed its final workout before Thursday’s walk-through…
WALKING WOUNDED UPATE
Three Bomber defenders were spectators at practice on Wednesday: defensive back Kevin Fogg, who exited last week’s game in Saskatchewan in the first half with a lower-body injury; safety Taylor Loffler and linebacker Maurice Leggett.
Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea said Fogg was to be evaluated again after practice on Wednesday, while Leggett and Loffler needed a ‘vet day’ and would be good to go against the Stamps. Ryan Lankford will continue to be the primary kick returner if Fogg can’t go.
LONG WAIT TO SHORT WEEK
The Bombers had the bye in Week 1 of the CFL season, but have now entered a stretch where the next two games are played on ‘short weeks’: the club played Saturday in Regina and is home to Calgary on Friday and then Toronto next Thursday.
“It’s tough on the coaches, it really is, with the amount of planning they have to do,” said O’Shea. “The days are a little longer and the mornings come a little sooner. But I think it’s great getting back on the field again and I think the players like it, too, jumping back on the field and fix some of the things they want to fix.”
GRADING THE ‘D’
There was a lot to like about the Bombers defence in Week 1 – they held the Riders to just 20 rushing yards on 10 carries, picked off Kevin Glenn twice and registered three sacks – but the club also wants to clean up a lot of areas before facing the Stamps. They’ll have to against one of the CFL’s perennial offensive forces.
“I thought there was some improvements in certain areas, in terms of the pass rush and the pressure we put on,” said O’Shea. “We played a different style of defence a little bit, and for the first go-round it was all right. Nobody wants to give up that many points, but we shut out the run game and basically forced them to pass the ball.
“We will be better. I’m not hoping. This is stuff you work on and you work on in training camp and throughout the year.”
“I’d say ‘average’,” said Bombers defensive coordinator Richie Hall when asked to grade the defensive performance. “We made some plays, we gave up a couple easy plays. I’m not missing the fact that they scored 40 points, but it was how they scored 40 points. It wasn’t like they were consistently going up and down the field. They made some big plays and they scored.
“I’m very happy with the victory part, but we still have a long ways to go as far as where we want to be defensively.”