Banged-up Bombers not what they used to be Team catches break, stumbles into playoffs

November 03, 1995|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been dragging their injured bodies around for most of the season, but at least they survived long enough to make it to the Canadian Football League playoffs.

Not that Winnipeg figures to be around for long. Tomorrow at 1 p.m., the Blue Bombers face the Baltimore Stallions in the first round of the CFL playoffs at Memorial Stadium.

The Stallions (15-3) had been angling for the postseason long before putting together a 10-game winning streak to end their regular season.

The Blue Bombers, uncharacteristically, are lucky to be here. Winnipeg (7-11) makes its eighth straight playoff appearance, although the Blue Bombers in no way resemble the team that played in the Grey Cup championship game in 1992 and 1993. Winnipeg dropped a tough, 14-12 decision on a late field goal to Baltimore in last year's Eastern Division final.

Only eight players in Winnipeg's starting lineup played there last year, as trades, free-agent signings and injuries have altered its roster. The Blue Bombers had won only five games as of a month ago, and needed to win their last two games against the weakest teams in the North Division to have a shot at the playoffs.

They barely pulled it off. After beating Toronto, a team which had beaten the Blue Bombers a week earlier, Winnipeg came from behind in the fourth quarter to beat Ottawa, scoring 19 unanswered points to take a 36-33 victory. Still, if Saskatchewan had beaten British Columbia last week, Winnipeg would be sitting at home.

Ottawa was the worst team in the CFL. Baltimore tied Calgary for the best regular-season record in the league. Winnipeg coach Cal Murphy has done the math.

"Baltimore is an overwhelming favorite, as they should be," Murphy said. "But Saskatchewan played Baltimore tough, and we beat Saskatchewan. Hamilton played Baltimore tough, and we beat Hamilton. I think we'll show up."

It's been a trying season for Murphy, who has watched 75 different players suit up this year, the equivalent of more than two active rosters.

"We've almost lost a player a game. We're not the same football team," Murphy said. "Still, the guys we've put in there are doing pretty darn well."

The Blue Bombers are thankful that their offense has finally showed up. Quarterback Reggie Slack, acquired from Birmingham at midseason to replace an ineffective Sammy Garza, has rounded into form. Winnipeg has averaged a mediocre 22.4 points per game this year, but in their past five games, the Blue Bombers averaged 32.6 points.

Slack's progress is a huge reason why. In his past six games, Slack has thrown for 1,581 yards and 10 touchdowns. And his favorite receiver, veteran Gerald Wilcox, has come back strong from an elbow injury that sidelined him for four games earlier this fall.

Wilcox has gone over the 1,000-yard mark in receiving for the third straight year, having rolled up 661 yards in his past six games.

Then again, with the injuries that have depleted Winnipeg's offensive line -- tackle Chris Walby (biceps) and guard Brett MacNeill (broken thumb) are out -- Slack might not have the time to find Wilcox.

Injuries on Winnipeg's defense make this game look more like a mismatch, similar to Baltimore's 43-7 pounding of the Blue Bombers in July. Outside linebacker Paul Randolph has been out for most of the year with a torn biceps tendon. Middle linebacker Greg Clark had wrist surgery last week and will miss tomorrow's game. So will safety Daryl Sampson and linebacker Andre Allen.

NOTE: Stallions defensive end Grant Carter was named CFL Lineman of the Week for his performance in last week's 24-17 victory over Hamilton. Carter had five defensive tackles, one special teams tackle and four quarterback hurries. He became the ninth Baltimore player to win a Player of the Week award this season.

Stallions tomorrow

Playoff opponent: Winnipeg Blue Bombers (7-11)

Site: Memorial Stadium

Time: 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: None/WJFK (1300 AM), WGRX (100.7 FM)

Tickets: Many available at $20, $25 and $30.

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