Four p.m. Saturday afternoon and I’m still speechless. I had prepared all week to sing the praises of a team that was 3-4, with a big play offense and a strong showing against a division rival. But today, none of my notes are relevant. We lost by eleven points, exactly three points less than the Hamilton Tiger-Cats burned us for in the first quarter alone.
Sure, we came back and scored twenty-eight points without a place kicker and made some key interceptions to keep the game close, but we took one hundred and twenty-seven yards in penalties and turned the ball over five times.
Right now, there seems to be more than enough blame to go around.
We could blame Kevin Glenn for the loss. His best games this season have been against Winnipeg. Save for week one where the Ticats came out flat, Glenn seems to continue to be a thorn in the side of the River City, even two years after his eagerly awaited release when his record as a starter was just 38-40-1. But Kevin Glenn didn’t run for any touchdowns or set up any spectacularly long drives on Friday night. He even threw two interceptions, one that went all the way back for a touchdown and another that was caught in the end zone and taken back to midfield.
We could say we’re 1-2 against other CFL opponents this year and blame the entire Ticats team for our poor record. After all, we only lost those games against Toronto and Calgary by a combined five points. But the Ticats aren’t responsible for the problems in the secondary, or the pregame calf injury to placekicker Louie Sakoda. Hamilton’s not responsible for Philip Hunt’s three major roughing penalties on Friday, which accounted for almost half of the total penalty yards. Nor are our Eastern foes at the heart of Brock Ralph’s three drops, two called back catches (one in the end zone), and decision to try for extra yards by running backwards and losing a critical first down.
We could blame the refs for our three losses to Hamilton, offering the two calls of incomplete pass on Brock Ralph’s catches with toes in-bounds as evidence. One could even present the blown Kevin Glenn fumble call in game three that resulted in the set up of a TD. This is the same call for which the CFL issued an official apology to the Blue Bombers Football Club, as the Toronto replay headquarters admitted it blew the call even after the Bombers challenged. But, as the head coach reminded us, we can’t focus on which calls they got right and got wrong, only how we play and rise above adversity.
And what about coach Paul LaPolice? Or general manager Joe Mack? We could blame these two, as faces of the organization, for a sub-par seven weeks this season. LaPolice was an offensive phenom in Saskatchewan the last few years and Joe Mack has all those NFL connections from his years with the Carolina Panthers.
You could take it to the head coach for poor clock management in the Calgary game, at the end of game six in Hamilton and even the end of the first half on Friday night. You could shout about defensive schemes that left Arland Bruce III open for big gains in the last two games, or about a running back who has yet to put together a one hundred yard game after a breakout season last year. You could call for LaPolice’s head and demand he be fired, but four coaches in six years hasn’t won us any championships.
You could rip Joe Mack a new one for bringing in a stock of defensive backs less than six feet tall on average and failing to secure an experienced SAM linebacker, like many posts on local websites and forums have been doing.
You could blame the players for not stepping up and making the big plays; after all, Chris Davis dropped a pass near the side line when he was wide open, and both Brock Ralph and Philip Hunt cost us a lot of yards. You could even blame the fans for spending more time and energy on blaming, bitching and beer snakes.
Or you could look at the big picture.
Take a 2-5 team that has been hampered by injuries, inconsistency and inexperience and give them the benefit of the doubt.
Take a rookie head coach and management team and give them the time to rebuild an organization that went from Grey Cup finalist to gaffe-ridden laughing stock.
Take a good hard look at the 2010 Blue Bombers and you’ll see a team with an overhaul in personnel and an average age of 27. Look even deeper and you’ll see a team in the top three in most offensive and defensive categories, striving to reach that next level.
You’ll see an organization that was severely damaged by the antics of a foot-in-mouth coach and saw as much turnover off the field as on it.
In a city desperate for success, we could get angry. We could blame everyone and call for the firing of anyone that comes to mind. Or we could throw our support behind a team that can only get better and say the only thing that comes to mind at 2-5: there’s always next year.