As each CFL team's season comes to an end, we're going to look back on the highs, lows and issues they faced this year. Rather than doing so with Dear John letters or eulogies from their opponents, we're going to borrow a classic writer's trick and anthropomorphize each team's season with a newspaper-style obituary. First up: your 2010 Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers' 2010 season passed away Friday night from a lack of wins. The Bombers; season had been labeled as a terminal case after a 27-8 loss to Toronto eliminated them from playoff contention, and schedule-makers gave the season only weeks to live.
The Bombers did not go gently into that good night, however, and almost took the Edmonton Eskimos with them before falling 16-13 in overtime last week in a game that could have potentially doomed Edmonton's playoff aspirations. They put up another valiant effort Friday against the Calgary Stampeders, but again came up just short, losing 35-32.
The Bombers' lack of wins can be traced to three serious causes. First, they suffered from continually rotating quarterbacks. Opening-day starter Buck Pierce played very well when healthy, but suffered several injuries, including one that proved season-ending against Saskatchewan in early September. Steven Jyles also performed very capably in relief, but never seemed to quite earn the full trust of head coach Paul LaPolice, and was even (perhaps unfairly) yanked for the untested Alex Brink.
Brink also struggled at first, and LaPolice went back to Jyles and was rewarded with an incredible comeback against the Lions. However, both Jyles and Brink later went down in that game against Toronto, forcing Winnipeg to turn to the untested Joey Elliott down the stretch (and bring in a couple of obscure quarterbacks to back him up). Elliott improved with experience and played particularly well against Calgary Friday, but he wasn't strong enough at first to keep the Bombers' playoff hopes alive.
The second major issue that led to the Bombers' demise was an inability to win close games. They set a CFL record with nine losses by four points or less, which explains why they finished with a not-bad -21 point differential (miles ahead of potentially playoff-bound Edmonton's -155) but a 4-14 record. It also explains why some feel their season was cut down too young. Some observers, including Peter James, have viewed those close-game struggles as an indictment of LaPolice and the coaching staff, and there's certainly some merit to that. There were definitely moments where different play-calling or decisions might have made a difference, including one Friday night where the Bombers elected to punt while down by three with less than two minutes left.
However, not all close games are equal. A three-point overtime loss to a battered Edmonton team starting a backup quarterback who throws four interceptions isn't terribly impressive (despite Winnipeg's own quarterback issues in that game), and a 16-14 loss to the poorly-playing B.C. Lions is even worse. On the other hand, Winnipeg deserves credit for games where they kept it within four against strong teams like Calgary and Montreal. Going into those games, they were expected to lose by a lot, so keeping it close is really more of a positive reflection on the coaching staff and the players than a negative one.
Penalties and discipline were the third crucial cause of the Bombers' demise. Winnipeg had the second-most penalty yards in the CFL heading into Friday's action with 1,654 and took plenty more last night, including a 15-yard penalty to Terrence Jeffers-Harris for the awesome cannon celebration pictured above. As Yahoo!'s Greg Wyshynski pointed out the other day, everything else is "irrelevant when you have an [expletive] cannon," so that may have been a worthwhile penalty. It didn't make LaPolice particularly happy, though, as the picture at right demonstrates.
The highlight of Winnipeg's season was likely that superb performance by Jyles off the bench that led the Bombers to a spectacular 21-point fourth quarter comeback and an eventual 47-35 win over the Lions. That also led to the end of the Casey Printers era in B.C.. The low point of the Bombers' season was the aforementioned loss to Toronto, where one afternoon saw them lose two quarterbacks, a game and their playoff hopes.
The Bombers also made plenty of off-the-field headlines in their final moments. They played an important role in reigniting the firestorm around if CFL players were allowed to wear pink during games, they brought in the aforementioned obscure quarterbacks and they even added an unconventional media relations strategist. They also featured the league's leading rusher in Fred Reid (1,396 yards on the ground), the CFL's first- and third-best sack artists (Phillip Hunt and Odell Willis, 16 and 11 sacks respectively) and the league's top receiver heading into Saturday's games (Terrence Edwards, 1,372 receiving yards). There's certainly plenty of young talent around the team, even if some players like Hunt may take a look at the NFL in the offseason.
The Bombers' 2010 season is survived by general manager Joe Mack and head coach Paul LaPolice (for the moment, anyway). Reid, Edwards and many of their other strong players are also expected to return next year, and they'll certainly be hoping for better results than this 4-14 record, the team's worst since 1998. In memory of the Bombers' 2010 season, donations to their new stadium project will be gratefully accepted, especially if those donations come from government and help to cover the current $45 million funding gap.
Feel free to leave your memories of and tributes to the 2010 Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the comments below.