“Any time we’re at home we feel confident we’re going to win”

Jake Thomas can remember the early days at IG Field, back when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would run out of the tunnel for the player introductions and it was like…

“It was like this place was jinxed,” began the veteran defensive tackle and longest-serving current Bomber in a chat with bluebombers.com this week.

“If you go back to ’13 and ’14, we weren’t very good and I’d say it almost worked the other way in terms of ‘homefield advantage.’ I mean, I can remember times that as soon as Brian Brohm stepped on the field fans were booing him. Now our fans are positive and we’re giving them a reason to be positive.”

Just for the record, the Bombers are now on a solid run at home, having won 12 of their last 13 at IG Field. The team won its final three home games in 2018 and went 8-1 in 2019 – the lone blemish a 33-13 loss to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in late September – before knocking off the Tabbies in last week’s season opener.

Just to put this current 12-1 home run into perspective, we have some numbers from the CFL’s crack stats crew of Steve Daniel and Jeff Krever.

  • The Bombers’ best home stretch came from 1983 to 1986. Over parts of those four seasons, Winnipeg won 24 of 25 home games. That run included 16 straight wins at old Winnipeg Stadium from October 23, 1983 to October 6, 1985. The Bombers lost on October 18, 1985 and then cranked out eight more wins through October of 1986. The 16-game home winning streak is the longest in club history.
  • The Bombers also had a streak of winning 17 of 18 at home during 1992-94, a run that included 10 consecutive home wins from August 13, 1993 to August 24, 1994. In that 17 of 18 run, the Bombers out-scored their visitors by 278 points, or roughly 15 per game.
  • A couple of other noteworthy home runs: from October 22, 1938 to October 25, 1941 the Bombers won 15 in a row at old Osborne Stadium.
  • During a stretch from 2000-03 the Bombers were 26-5 at Canad Inns Stadium, including a 17-2 stretch from August 3, 2001 to July 10, 2003.
  • And, one more: the Bombers are 390-245-5 at home since 1936, for a .614 winning percentage. Only Edmonton (.661) and Calgary (.652) have better numbers.

On top of all that, consider this as the Bombers prepare to host the Toronto Argonauts Friday night: this franchise was an abysmal 7-23 in the first 30 games played at IG Field, but are now in a 24-9 stretch in this building since early August 3, 2016. Asked for his theories on that turnaround, Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea served up the most obvious:

“Well, we’ve got some pretty damn good players,” he said with a grin. “They put a lot of work in every day to make sure they can go out there and give themselves a chance to win every week. Certainly the home crowd and how loud they are is a part of that formula, too. We’ve got good players and good fans.”

Thomas provided a couple of his own reasons as to the turnaround, besides the roster being stocked with better talent. First, there are more local players on the squad than in the past.

“When your best player, Andrew Harris, is from Manitoba, he goes onto the field with a pride and a drive to represent this city and this province and it’s easy to follow guys like that,” said Thomas. “And in 2019 when we won the Grey Cup we had Nic Demski, Andrew, Thomas Miles, Geoff Gray, Brady Oliveira… there’s five guys right there from Manitoba. Playing in front of friends and family can be motivating.

“The other thing is it almost seems like as we started to get better as a team when we started interacting more with our fans. There was the ‘Hardrick Hop’ and other players celebrating with fans and it started to feel more like a college atmosphere.

“There’s part of the building of a culture now that we don’t lose at home very often. Any time we’re at home we feel confident we’re going to win and that we do have an advantage. And, obviously, when you get better that makes it a tougher place to play. That’s why Calgary is considered the hardest place to get a win and that’s just because they’ve been the most consistent franchise in the league.”

A fourth-round pick of the Bombers in 2012, Thomas actually began his career in Winnipeg at old Canad Inns Stadium. And while the days at IG Field began with an ugly stretch, there have been some memorable wins since. One that pops out for Thomas was a win over Hamilton that began on August 3, 2016 and didn’t finish until after midnight following a 2 1/2 hour rain delay.

“I don’t know how many people went home, but they said there were 11-15,000 people who stayed and they rocked this place,” he said. “It’s one in the morning and we’re still playing… that makes you want to play for the fans.

“What’s also happening now is I think there’s a better understanding from us knowing how tough the world is right now and there’s only so much money to go around because of COVID. And if fans are willing to come and spend that money on us, we want to make sure we put a good product on the field.”

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