Matt Nichols: The answer at quarterback or a lamb being led to slaughter with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers?

Take comfort, Bombers Nation. Rest easy. The cavalry has been summoned and, no doubt, Matt Nichols arrived in River City with a pocket full of miracles, a satchel full of high hopes and a truckload of good-luck charms.

The mere fact he’s in town, of course, must be recognized as a favorable development, in that the Winnipeg Blue Bombers latest quarterbacking lamb didn’t have a change of heart and retire from football while en route from Edmonton.

I mean, playing QB for the Winnipegs is not exactly a plum assignment. It ain’t what it used to be. You know, back when Ken Ploen and Don Jonas and Dieter Brock and Matt Dunigan and Khari Jones were flinging the football behind offensive linemen who performed as big as they ate. Now it’s more of a bug-and-windshield thing, and you ain’t the windshield, baby. But, hey, you get danger pay.

So, sure, come on down, Matt. Hit us with your best shot.

Naturally, there are those among you who pooh-pooh the acquisition of Nichols as yet another swan dive into yet another Canadian Football League’s dumpster by Kyle Walters, the club’s general manager who is often seen wearing the look of a very perplexed man. (This, of course, is what happens when your original starting QB, Drew Willy, is in sick bay, your current starter, Robert Marve, is also in sick bay, and your third option, Brian Brohm, is quite healthy but unfortunately has a birth defect known as his throwing arm.)

But come now, ye negative natterbugs. You ought to know by now that this is the Bomber way. They dare not wander out into the vast football forest and discover their own quarterback, sign him and groom him into star starter. They wouldn’t recognize a quality quarterback if Bo Levi Mitchell and Zach Collaros were playing catch in Walters’ back yard. Doing it in-house is old school. That kind of thinking went out with Dieter Brock.

Thus, we have Matt Nichols, plucked from the back alley bin of the Edmonton Eskimos for a token finder’s fee of a seventh-round draft choice. A conditional choice, at that. Cripes, man, that’s like giving a kid a participation prize in Pop Warner.

So, I shall not be joining the chorus of harrumphs that arose once word of the Nichols-for-nil transaction arrived. What, I ask, was Walters supposed to do? Bring Danny McManus out of moth balls?

Besides, I have it on good authority that Nichols is of substantive stock. That authority would be none other than the head coach, Mike O’Shea, who stared at a gathering of interrogators on Wednesday afternoon and announced that he had “seen enough film on him” to confirm his new QB’s bona fides. It is always a good thing to hear the coach say he has “seen film” on a player or a game, because it means he doesn’t respond to every question like he’s been asked to explain Donald Trump’s take on Hispanics.

The coach also advised news scavengers that they, and fans, are to ignore Nichols’ numbers while he was adorned in the green-and-gold linen of the Eskimos. Except one—the No. 5, as in the number of Ws he racked up as the Edmonton starter this season.

“The No. 1 job for any quarterback,” stressed O’Shea, “is winning. The first test is winning and he’s passed that.”

Apparently the tall foreheads on the Eskimos’ sideline don’t share that sentiment, because they busted Nichols down to backup and handed the starting job to a CFL neophyte, James Franklin. And, with Mike Reilly soon to rejoin the fray, his best-before date had expired.

Unfortunately, we’re told we shouldn’t expect to see what Nichols has to offer on the Sabbath when the Bombers are in Regina for their annual day-before-Labor Day skirmish with the winless Roughriders. Apparently, three days isn’t a sufficient amount of time to absorb the Winnipeg playbook.

Geez, I would have thought reading football’s version of Dick and Jane wouldn’t take more than, oh, 10 minutes.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: O’Shea can you see the film at 11?

Film. It’s all about film for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

They can’t tell us what actually transpired at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry on Friday night until they’ve examined the video evidence.

Oh, sure, they know they took their fifth misstep in this 2015 Canadian Football League crusade, a 27-20 beatdown at the gnarly hands of the Toronto Argonauts. They know they had a greenhorn, Robert Marve, at quarterback. They know the punt coverage unit allowed A.J. Jefferson to skedaddle 70 yards with a Liram Hajrullahu hoof.

It’s the how and why that they don’t know. Not until they “see the film.” It’s always film at 11 for the Bombers.

Seriously.

Listen to Mike O’Shea, the head coach, explain the events early in the fourth quarter, when Jefferson romped to the house, a momentum-swaying play that tilted the field in favor of the Boatmen.

“Until I watch the film,” he advised curious news scavengers, “I can’t tell ya. I imagine…I imagine some of our guys got blocked. That’s what usually happens.”

So what you’re telling us, Mike, is that you don’t have a clue. Is that it?

“Until I see the actual punt return, it’s hard to say what exactly happened on that particular play,” he confirmed.

How comforting to know the coach didn’t see the game’s most influential play.

I can’t recall Cal Murphy or Mike Riley being such cop-outs, but, then, they were usually on the high end of the scoreboard and winning Grey Cups, so they seldom had to explain opposing players scampering through their defenders like a scalded dog.

Whatever, we now lend our ears to Marve, the first-time starter who was adequate with gusts up to very efficient as a substitute for the wounded Drew (Wonky) Willy.

Tell us, Robert, as far as baptism’s under fire go, how do you rate this experience?

“Gotta watch the film to see,” he said.

Fine. What about the game plan the coaching staff gave you? Kind of conservative, wasn’t it?

“I’ve gotta watch the film,” he said. “It’s so hard to tell. I gotta really watch the film. I don’t wanna say somethin’ then watch the film and have no idea, so I think I can give a better assessment of that tomorrow or the next day.”

Any thoughts about going into the shotgun formation on that third-and-one gamble in the final minute of the game?

“I gotta watch the film on it. I know I keep saying the same thing, but that’s the reality of it.”

This being just your first start, you’ve got plenty of time and room for career growth.

“I gotta keep playing. I gotta keep playing. I don’t wanna say I played great, I don’t wanna say I played bad…I don’t know. I gotta watch the film.”

OK, we’ll mark that down as another yes, no, maybe so. Now, the Bombers get the bye next week as the CFL season lurches toward the halfway mark, when the fun actually begins. Any plans while the club is on the down low?

“Keep watching film,” he said.

I swear, these guys watch more film than Martin Scorsese. Not that it helps much, because they’re 3-5 and riding a toboggan. When next we see the Bombers at Football Follies Field in Fort Garry (Aug. 29 when the Calgary Stampeders come calling), it’s likely that they’ll be looking up at every outfit in the West Division with the exception of their Prairie cousins from Saskatchewan, the Roughriders.

I believe we can safely assume that by then Marve will have rid himself of the pesky flu bug that pestered him vs. the Argos. Oh, yes, the poor guy played sick, even if his play wasn’t.

“Were you vomiting today? Sorry to be so personal…” one wit asked the Bombers QB.

“Ya, a little bit,” he confirmed. “What can you do? We scored some points while I was throwing up, so…”

Ugh. That’s one film none of us needs to see.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Will head coach Mike O’Shea follow one bad move with another?

This is down to Mike O’Shea.

He never should have sent Drew Willy back into the fray to begin the second half of Sunday’s train wreck in Hamilton. It was 31-No Hope at the time. The Tiger-Cats were home and cooled. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, meanwhile, were anxious just to get home.

Yet the Bombers’ still-greenhorn head coach dispatched Willy to take the snaps. And the lumps. Dumb, dumber and dumbest.

This isn’t hindsight speaking, simply because we’ve received word that Willy, the Bombers starting quarterback and offensive lifeblood, has a wonky right knee that renders him hors de combat for the next six weeks to two months. I said it when the large lads disappeared for recess at Timbits Park in the Hammer. With the tally 31-zip after 30 minutes, the Bombers were as likely to win that football game as Wade Miller is to sprout to 6-feet-5 inches tall over the summer. So, I figured, let’s see what kind of junk the understudy has.

No, I didn’t mean Brian Brohm. He never has been, nor will he ever be, a quality starting quarterback in the Canadian Football League. The jury long ago delivered that verdict on him.

Thus, like many others in Bombers Nation, I wanted to see the flavor of the month go in and stir the drink. That would be Robert Marve, third on the QB pecking order. Give him the reps. Let him experience an entire half’s worth of growing pains.

Alas, head coach No’Shea would have none of that. Damned if he wasn’t going to feed Willy back to the wolves, who had already taken a substantial chunk out of his hide with five first-half sacks. The end result was a 38-8 whupping and a right knee that suffered more damage than Donald Trump after he opens his mouth.

“I got a lot of faith in Drew and I still believe he gave us the best chance to win,” was No’Shea’s unreasoned response to news scavengers when asked, post-match, why he hadn’t pulled the plug on Willy when it was obvious to everyone from Ken Ploen to the ghost of Cal Murphy that the Bombers had #NoHope.

Oh, shut the front door, Mike!

And now, with Willy gone for perhaps the remainder of this 2015 crusade, the head coach is spewing similar spittle that flies in the face of reason.

So, who’s your starting QB when the Toronto Argonauts roll into River City on Friday, coach Mike?

“Well, I’m not gonna tell ya right now,” a tight-lipped No’Shea said at a Tuesday afternoon inquisition, very much playing the coy boy. “We’ll go through practice tomorrow and we’ll know then for sure. I don’t want to offer our opponent any competitive advantage, right, in terms of prep. My choice.”

Again, shut the front door, Mike. Your opponents already have a competitive advantage in terms of prep—you’re the Bombers and they’re not.

As much as it probably doesn’t matter whether it’s eeny or meeny behind centre vs. the Boatmen, it’s all about the best chance to win, as the coaching mantra goes. My guess is that No’Shea will determine that man to be Brohm and anoint him the starter, but it will be the wrong thing to do. Again.

Marve has skedaddle to his game. Plenty of it. Brohm has stand still. More’s the pity.

“Brian is a very efficient quarterback,” the coach told news scavengers hanging on his every evasive word Tuesday. “He’s more like Drew in terms of his pocket presence, his passing ability, how he goes through the process of reading a defence and using the tools he has in our offence.”

Which is exactly why you shouldn’t start him.

Going “through the process” doesn’t get it done for a Bombers QB. That gets you time in sick bay. What you need is some lickety-split. And some now-you-see-him, now-you-don’t Houdini.

That’s Marve. He might actually finish what he starts.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: From Brittle Buck to Wonky Willy, the beat(ing) goes on

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Down goes Willy! Down goes Willy! Down goes Willy!

Drew Willy, of course, always gets up and dusts himself off because, as we are reminded ad nauseum, he’s one tough dude. Trouble is, he doesn’t always finish what he starts. That is, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback too often is seen staggering off to the infirmary while his understudies are left to pick up the broken pieces of another fine mess the offensive line has gotten them into.

Such was the case yet again on Sunday afternoon at Timbits Park in Hamilton, where the Tiger-Cats beat up Willy. Then they beat up Brian Brohm. Then they beat up Robert Marve.

Why, I haven’t seen QBs get beat up like this since…well, since the last quarterback to play behind the Blue and Gold O-line. Guy’s name was Pierce. Buck Pierce. Had more owies than the ER at the Health Sciences Centre. Buck was as brittle as a piece of burnt toast. He doesn’t play football anymore, though. He got out before medics had to put a tag on one of his big toes.

Why do you think the Bombers’ starting pivot gets paid such large coin? His wage isn’t based on merit. Willy’s base salary is $100,000. The other $300,000 is danger pay.

I swear, if I’m Willy, I’m marching into general manager Kyle Walters’ office this morning and demanding to renegotiate. I want to cut a better deal. Except Willy can’t march, can he? At best, he can limp after being chased from the fray in the third quarter of Sunday’s skirmish, a 38-8 paddywhacking by the Ticats, who look to be the finest outfit in the eastern precinct of the Canadian Football League.

How bad was the O-line? The Tabbies had seven sacks in all, five in a laughable first half. Cripes, man, Caitlyn Jenner gets better protection than that from her fleet of hangers-on.

That’s not to say this face plant is all on the hogs up front. The Bombers specialty teams did some toe-stubbing, as well. Like on a punt that was partially blocked, and on a botched kickoff return, both plays leading to Ticat TDs as the home side put the game out of reach with a 21-0 advantage seven minutes in.

It was a good, old fashioned mollywhomping. That, at least, is how Milt Stegal described it in the TSN studio once the damage had reached 31-nada. The Bombers were “getting mollywhomped,” he declared, and I didn’t bother to look up the word “mollywhomped” in the dictionary. But I’m sure there’s a pic of a big, ol’ can of whup-ass beside the definition.

I must say, though, I’ve seen worse. Honest. I have. Hey, when you’ve been watching large lads grab grass and growl for more than half a century, you’ve always seen worse.

There was a playoff game in 1996, for example. It was 31-1 at the half. It was 68-7 at the finish. For the other guys. And that was a playoff game. That shameful exercise on a slick, snow-covered patch of earth at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton cost Cal Murphy the one thing he cherished almost as much as his transplanted heart—his job as head coach of the Bombers.

A 55-10 loss in the Banjo Bowl half a dozen years back wasn’t exactly the Mona Lisa, either. Nor was a 52-0 licking in the 2012 Labor Day Classic.

So, sure, the goings-on of Sunday afternoon were ugly. This was Tiger Woods golf game ugly. It was Donald Trump hair ugly. It was Jeff Reinebold head coach ugly. But it was far from the ugliest of the ugly. And ugly won’t even begin to describe what the Bombers will look like if Wonky Willy is unable to start another game he won’t finish due to his gimpy right knee.

Mind you, it doesn’t really matter who takes the snaps, does it. He’s a lamb going to slaughter. Make room in the infirmary for Robert Marve or Brian Brohm.

rooftop riting biz card back sidePatti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.