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article imageWinnipeg Blue Bombers Grey Cup drought turns 24 years old Special

By Ben Morris     Nov 30, 2014 in Sports
Winnipeg - While the Calgary Stampeders and Hamilton Tiger Cats battle for CFL supremacy, one franchise is sitting at home pondering when they will return their city to CFL prominence.
After a 5-1 start to the season, fans of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers were cautiously optimistic about a return to the playoffs. Then, as other struggling teams improved, the holes on the team were exposed. Winning just two more games after their shocking start, hopes of at least a playoff spot was crushed and the team's Grey Cup drought extended to 24 years.
The date was November 25, 1990. The oldest current Blue Bomber, Romby Bryant, was just 10 years old, when the underdog Winnipeg Blue Bombers forced eight turnovers in a 50-11 demolition. After a close first half, the Blue Bombers defense shut down Tracy Ham and the Eskimos offense, starting with a Greg Battle interception return touchdown. From that point on the Bombers dominated.
One of the key defensive players of the game was defensive back Ken Hailey, who recovered two fumbles in the victory. After a close start to the game many would think a fiery speech inspired the team destroy Edmonton's hope of a Grey Cup victory, but that wasn't the case.
"Mike Riley wasn't about motivational speeches, he was more about corrections," wrote Hailey in an email interview from his home in California. Hailey added, "the turnover for a touchdown by Greg Battle put us in a position to relax a little." The close knit group of friends who played to not let the other guys down, saw blood in the water and controlled every aspect of the football game.
Hailey played on three Grey Cup winning Bomber teams and remembers the pride in participating in Grey Cup parades where he saw thousands of fans braving the cold temperatures to honor the team. That passionate fan base inspired those teams to greatness, but since the last championship, bad luck and poor management has created a culture of futility.
Two years after their destruction of Edmonton, the Bombers lost to Doug Flutie and the Calgary Stampeders. Since their last Grey Cup victory, Winnipeg has made it to just five championship games. In a league with eight or nine teams. For the majority of the last 24 years, the disappointment about the drought is amplified. Many look back to the 1990 team and see what needs to be done to field a championship team.
"(Blue Bombers G.M Kyle Walters) needs to get a Paul Jones. He needs a guy in the United States to find them the best linebackers and defensive backs that are available. That's what the 1990 team had," said veteran Winnipeg sports journalist Scott Taylor in reference to star defensive players on the 1990 team that included names like Greg Battle, James West, Less Browne and Rod Hill .The collection of those players were a product of strong scouting and a commitment to winning. The winning management has been lost, and according to Taylor that lack of success, "starts at the top."
"The board of directors are not very good- the history of bad hires has been horrendous." The board of governors have hired coaches like Jeff Reinbold, Jim Daley, and Mike well as G.M Joe Mack who was run out of town by the media and the fans for questionable decision making like failing to resign guard Brandon LaBatte, and not trading for Ricky Ray. According to Taylor the bad decisions are a result of a "board of directors, (that) is run by people who don't know anything about football."
At the end of 2013, former FB Wade Miller was named the club C.E.O, and he immediately fired Mack, replacing him with Assistant G.M Kyle Walters, Mike O'Shea replaced Head Coach Tim Burke, and former Bombers back up Q.B Danny McManus was brought in as an assistant to Walters. Those changes, along with a new starting quarterback had a city excited after a 5-1 start. The collapse left people at home, submitting to yet another failed season.
Recalling the fast start Taylor noted, "They won three games late they probably shouldn't have won- they didn't get better when everyone else did." The Alouettes started off 1-6 and ended the season winning 8 of their last 9 to win the East. B.C, who eliminated the Bombers from postseason contention, survived with a backup Q.B, the momentum and confidence created by a 5-1 slowly deteriorated into yet another year without a championship.
Of the thousands of passionate, yet disappointed Blue Bombers fans, one man bleeds blue and gold. Lanny Navitka is a season ticket holder who wears his Bomber gear to every game, holding up signs he sacrifices hours to make. Although some fans may believe it is pathetic to have a championship drought of more than two decades, Navitka is not a fan who sees the decades long streak as something to cry about.
"I don't look at it as a bad thing. It doesn't matter to me because the Bombers have been to the Grey Cup since 1990 we've been to the Grey Cup five times, and we had a chance every time." Both Navitka and Taylor don't see the drought as a big deal considering the league history of horrid teams bouncing back after bad years to win the Grey Cup.
The drought is not considered a huge deal considering many CFL teams have had significant stretches of championship futility of their own. In 1989 the Saskatchewan Roughriders ended a 23 year championship drought. In 1985, the B.C Lions ended a drought of more than twenty years. Although a promising season ended with the Bombers heading home early, there is room for optimism.
After a 41-9 defeat at the hands of the Edmonton Eskimos, head coach Mike O'Shea bit the bullet and blamed the coaching staff for the loss, when he said "I felt like we didn't have the right stuff and the right plan. I felt like we were out-coached in the first half in all three phases," but the players didn't stand for it.
When asked by the Winnipeg Free Press about those comments defensive end Jason Vega responded with, "It's us. We're not making plays. We're giving up big plays here and there and that's on us. There's only so much (coaches) can do -- they can make a play call and say 'go ahead guys.' But if we're out of position, that's on us."
That accountability and leadership is part of recipe to make a championship team, and that attitude is what's needed to build a winning team. According to Hailey examples like one set by Vega were all over the locker room of the championship teams of the 80's.
"We knew how to have a good time, but we also knew how to strap it up. We were all competitors, that didn't like losing anything. You had to show me that you were better."
According to players, the Bombers have the management and the coaches to build a successful franchise. When the team cleaned out their lockers, linebacker Ian Wild pledged confidence by saying, "We took a big step forward for sure this year. We're definitely going to grow on it."
More about winnipeg blue bombers, Cfl, grey cup championship, 1990 grey cup, edmonton eskimos
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