While there was schedule carnage in several other CFL locations on Friday, Winnipeg Football Club president and CEO Wade Miller was quite pleased with the slate the Bombers got for 2015.
“The schedule is very fair,” Miller said Friday. “It was tough on the CFL head office this year with all the FIFA requirements across the country for the soccer and the Pan Am Games, so our (home) schedule is very fair and is split between Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It took the CFL a lot of time to make it right.”
Winnipeg will play home games twice on Thursday, including the home opener on July 2 against Hamilton, three on Friday and four on Saturday.
The Bombers were most happy about moving the 12th annual Banjo Bowl from Sunday afternoon to Saturday night. This year’s Labour Day Classic rematch will be played on Saturday, Sept. 6, at 5:30 p.m. at Investors Group Field. Only once in the previous 11 Banjo Bowls was the game played on Saturday.
“It was really important for our fans to move it to Saturday,” Miller said. “It gives everybody in rural Manitoba the opportunity to come in to the game a little easier, spend a weekend in Winnipeg if they want. The game’s a late enough start as well that if people want to drive in for the game we can.
“We’ll have temporary seats up most likely by then for the Grey Cup, so we’ll be able to expand our seating possibly as well. And just the timing of it, you’ll be able to tailgate at the plaza for three hours in advance and really have a great experience at one of the biggest regular season games in the CFL.”
Notice Miller didn’t mention Roughriders fans, but they, too, might be more tempted to make the trek to Winnipeg for the weekend knowing that they don’t have to hightail it home immediately after the contest. The Bombers also used to have their fan appreciation day on the Saturday before the Banjo Bowl, but that limited player participation. They’ll now move fan appreciation day to the day after the Banjo Bowl.
“That was important to us, to make sure our players are accessible,” Miller said.
Winnipeg will open its season on Saturday, June 27, in Regina against the arch rival Saskatchewan Roughriders, and there will be a few extra story lines. A handful of former Riders have joined the Bombers this off-season, including defensive co-ordinator Richie Hall, defensive backs coach Barron Miles and middle linebacker Sam Hurl, while the Bombers traded Cory Watson to the Green and White.
Something the coaching staff can’t like about the schedule is the team has to play four games on only four days’ rest. The Bombers have lost six straight games and seven of their last eight in that circumstance dating to 2008.
The Women’s World Cup soccer tournament will conduct games at Investors Group Field during the first two weeks of June, but the Bombers won’t have to travel out of town to begin their training camp.
“We’ve worked with FIFA to ensure that we have our entire facility, our football operations side of the facility in the stadium,” Miller said. “We will use the practice field on the campus of the U of M, so it’s worked out extremely well. They were flexible with us.”
Winnipeg’s byes are in Weeks 9 and 19, and its regular-season finale will beFriday, Nov. 6, in Toronto. Since each West Division team has to play three games against two division foes each year, the Bombers will play a trio of games against the Roughriders and the defending champion Calgary Stampeders.
The Grey Cup will be played at IGF on Nov. 29.
The Bombers are gunning for free agent middle linebacker Rennie Curran, who spent the last two seasons with the Edmonton Eskimos.
A source said the Bombers, Roughriders, Eskimos and RedBlacks are all in the running for Curran and the bidding had reached $150,000 per season. Then again, Edmonton general manager Ed Hervey said earlier this week that Curran wouldn’t be back in Green and Gold in 2015.