‘We haven’t done anything yet:’ Star-studded Bombers have to be wary of underdog Tiger-Cats

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HAMILTON — The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been the best team in the CFL all season and they cleaned up at the CFL Awards on Friday night which could mean the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have them right where they want them.

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Everyone on both sides of Sunday’s Grey Cup matchup at Tim Hortons Field remembers a similar situation occurring in 2019, only on that occasion it was the Ticats that came into the game with all the accolades and most of the hardware.

Everyone also remembers how that turned out — the Bombers completely dismantled the 15-3, all-star laden, awards-heavy Tiger-Cats on Grey Cup Sunday, running away with a 33-12 victory.

The Ticats will surely be looking for a similar outcome, this time in their favour, against the 2021 Bombers, who went 11-1 in meaningful games this year (11-3 overall), placed 15 players on the West Division all-star team and earned four major league awards on Friday night.

That notion certainly doesn’t have the Bombers shaking in their cleats.

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“We just do a great job of focusing on the day-to-day and the task at hand,” veteran offensive lineman Pat Neufeld said after the Bombers held their final walkthrough on a balmy (17 C) December Saturday.

“We’re extremely happy for our teammates who won those awards and they’re well-deserved. But for today, we’re focusing on a game and what happened yesterday or any time before that is in the past. It’s that kind of mindset for us.”

The Bombers are three-point favourites for the big game and there are many observers who think they should win big. The Tiger-Cats get to play on their home field, which should be an advantage, and they are embracing the underdog role, trying to throw the pressure back on the Bombers.

But there’s a reason why the Bombers have been so successful in recent years and that has the players believing they are ready for anything that comes their way. It’s as if the 2019 win, the great 2021 season and all the individual recognition didn’t happen at all.

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“The mindset that we have on our team is ‘We haven’t done anything yet,’ defensive end Willie Jefferson said. “What we have done isn’t good enough so we need to work harder. We need to finish. That’s the mindset.

“We have one goal in mind and that’s to hoist that Cup after the game. and Hamilton is in our way.”

It almost sounds too obvious, but the secret to the Bombers success is simply hard work and preparation. They are a veteran group, laden with talent and experience, and they don’t get caught up in the highs and lows of the football season.

It all starts with Mike O’Shea, who was named coach of the year on Friday night.

“It’s the process that we’ve taken to get here,” Jefferson said. “Coach O’Shea has led us to the right spot. He doesn’t lead us in the wrong direction. Everything that he says plays a key role in how we prepare. He speaks on process more than anything and we want to try to keep that as close to normal as we can. He’s done a good job of keeping everybody locked in, focused in, ready to handle the task at hand.”

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For his part, O’Shea expects nothing less than a knock-’em down, drag-’em out battle between two hungry football teams. The Bombers are looking to repeat as champions for the first time since 1961-62, while the Ticats are looking for their first league title since 1999.

“Sixty minutes of tough football played in a great environment,” O’Shea said. “Hamilton-style football. We play the same, probably play the same brand. Good defences, offences that can get after it, big plays. It’s going to be a great setting.

“To me, it’s the biggest single-day sporting event in Canada every single year, it’s celebrated across the country. It’s important to people from one coast to the other, and I love that part of it. That’s awesome.”

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Freshly minted CFL most outstanding player Zach Collaros will start for the Bombers, looking to improve on his 16-2 record that dates back to late in the 2019 season, while Dane Evans gets the call for the Tiger-Cats and will look to improve on a dismal performance in the 2019 Grey Cup.

In that game, Evans was sacked six times, threw two interceptions and lost a fumble.

Collaros, for one, expects to see a much better game from his counterpart and is preparing for a classic.

“It’s two great teams, both a lot different than when we played in Week 1,” Collaros said. “Both are greatly improved. Two great organizations going at it.

“I’m really happy for the league, really happy for the country, having a year off and being able to pull this off this year, it’s been an amazing season. And it’s going to be a lot of fun to play on Sunday.”

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The Bombers boast the league’s best overall defence, while the Tiger-Cats were No. 1 against the run, but are missing their top run-stuffer, defensive tackle Ted Laurent, who is suffering from appendicitis and is out.

The Winnipeg D, led by most outstanding defensive player Adam Bighill, Jefferson, rush end Jackson Jeffcoat and safety Brandon Alexander, aims to start fast, play ferociously, be relentless and wreak havoc on the Tiger-Cats game plan.

“We like to start fast, we like to start strong,” Jefferson said. “If we can do that and we can put those guys behind the eight-ball like we did in 2019, that will be good for us. We just want to be disruptive. We want to get in the backfield and make everything hard for (Evans), make everything hard for the running backs.”

To Bombers running back Andrew Harris, who was the most valuable player of the 2019 Grey Cup, this is simply what he lives for.

“These are the moments, man,” Harris said. “This is a dream come true. You can’t take these moments and these memories for granted, that’s for sure.”

Twyman@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Ted_Wyman

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