The Winnipeg Blue Bombers were the consensus choice to finish last in the CFL West this season.
It wasn’t even close. People actually felt sorry for the Bombers.
The 3-15 East Division weaklings of 2013 with massive change at the coach and player level in the off-season, there was no doubt the Bombers would surely be in for another long, losing season now that they were back in the West and had to deal with the likes of the Stamps, Lions, Eskimos and Grey Cup Champion Roughriders.
Despite those dismal forecasts from the pundits, and aside from a mis-step against Edmonton in game 4, the Bombers have spit in the face of the experts, winning 4 of their first 5 games, including very convincing victories over a pair of pre-season Grey Cup favorites in BC and Toronto.
Which begs the question: What in the name of Lord Earl Grey’s mug is going on? How we do we account for this Blue Bomber success? Allow me to offer three personal theories:
1. Quarterbacking: At the most important position in football (and maybe in all of sport), Drew Willy has been everything the Bombers hoped he would be, and more. Hardly flashy, Willy has posted rock solid numbers, sporting a completion percentage of 63, with 1,301 passing yards, six touchdowns and four picks through five games. In addition, his poise, his toughness and his quiet, confident leadership have been invaluable. Most importantly, however, Willy has managed to stay healthy.
2. Gary Etcheverry’s defence: Kevin Glenn used the word “mysterious” to describe the way Etcheverry designs his defensive system. Really, it’s not all that mysterious. Etcheverry’s approach is predicated on confusion and speed. The multiple looks up front provide the confusion, and that allows the small, but fast and tenacious Blue Bomber linemen and linebackers to make plays all over the field.
The Bombers take a “team” approach to defence, where many of the parts are interchangeable, but one constant remains: A dogged pursuit of the ball carrier. The defensive “stats” are middle of the road, but the results so far are anything but.
3. Mike O’Shea: O’Shea was a bulldog as a player. For 16 seasons, he used grit, toughness and an indomitable will to make his mark as one of the most fierce, and effective linebackers in CFL history.
As a head coach, O’Shea is so much more than that. He’s quietly tough when he has to be, but he’s also cerebral. He is a first-rate communicator, he is a motivator,and he is an enabler. O’Shea has complete buy-in from his players, and through his positive approach, he has convinced them that no matter any limitations they might have, they are capable of great things.
There are still lots of tough games ahead for the Bombers; three each against Calgary and Saskatchewan, two more with Edmonton and B,C and two more with the defending East Division champion Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
And not to get carried away, but based on the first five games of the Mike O’Shea coaching era the Blue Bombers have given their fans much to be excited about and to look forward to.