Critical clash in Regina 0
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Saskatchewan Roughriders are looking for a win as they look to take position for a playoff push (File photo)
REGINA - It’s the most wonderful time of the football year.
Or, as it’s known in the Queen City, the only weekend when you have to sign a waiver promising not to throw your TV off your hotel balcony.
Yes, you gotta love the Labour Day Classic.
This time around, however, it’s all about the fans, because the players on the field are in no mood to party. The Bombers (2-6) just fired head coach Paul LaPolice and are in the CFL basement, desperately needing a victory to keep their heads above water.
Meanwhile, the Roughriders (3-5) have lost a whopping five games in a row after kicking off the season with three consecutive victories, and jobs are probably on the line. It’s the first time since 2005 that both teams go into the LDC with a losing record.
So even though it’s the most important game of the year from the fans’ perspective, the teams really, really, really need this one — annual prairie rivalry clash or not.
“Every game from here on out is critical,” new Bombers head coach Tim Burke said Saturday at Mosaic Stadium. “I was trying to sit down and tabulate how many wins it would take to make the playoffs and all that. Who knows?
“… (Joe) Mack made a decision to make a change, so obviously they want us to win games. So I would say every game at this point is critical.”
If the importance of Sunday’s 50th LDC clash isn’t enough to turn your crank, the subplots surrounding it should do the trick. A boatload of former Bombers will face their former team, including free agent defector Brendon LaBatte and supposed locker-room distraction Odell Willis, who was traded in March.
And just for good measure, the Riders this week signed Bomber ratio victim and middle linebacker Joe Lobendahn, who looks like he wants to rip your head off at the best of times. Imagine how fired up he’s going to be on Sunday afternoon.
Those are three players who were key members of last year’s Bomber squad, and now they’re gone for one reason or another. Mack didn’t replace much of his team’s lost talent, and it helped cost LaPolice his job last Saturday. So the LDC is a bit of a referendum on Mack’s off-season work as well.
If LaBatte, Willis and Lobendahn light it up, Mack might want to hang out in Regina for a few extra days and work on building that time machine. In fact, the exodus of talent out of Winnipeg is why Willis is not surprised the Blue and Gold are dwelling in the cellar.
“No, not at all, because they let go a core group of guys,” said Willis, who was bouncing around the field during Saturday’s walk through. “Pass rushers, you can replace them all day. But when you got core guys like Clint Kent and Joe Lobendahn, you just can’t replace those guys. That’s like taking the quarterbacks away and hoping the offence don’t miss a beat.
“The team went to the Grey Cup last year, and this year it seems like it’s a brand new team over there. I just don’t understand, but no knock to the management. I wish them well as the season goes on.”
Willis then added he didn’t wish the Bombers well on Sunday.
That’s a little more like it.