“Obviously it’s a big game for both provinces”

It is has become their very own Green Mile, that annual trek the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and their fans seemingly make toward impending doom every Labour Day weekend. Yes, in Bomberland the Labour Day Classic has an entirely different meaning than to the West of us in Saskatchewan Roughrider nation. It is more clunker than classic in these parts, what with the Blue Bombers having won just once in 15 games over a period from 2005-19.

O-N-C-E.

There’s more when it comes to the Bombers’ misery on Labour Day weekend over the last 15 visits – and we warn you some of these numbers aren’t suitable for all audiences. Consider this:

  • The average margin of defeat dating back to the 2005 game is a whopping 16.1 points. Of those 15 meetings, only four were decided by a touchdown or less, while eight were determined by two touchdowns or more – including a 52-0 loss in 2012.
  • On only four occasions dating back to 2005 have the Bombers entered the Labour Day Classic with a better record than the Riders, and even then the club is just 1-3, having won 28-25 on a last-second field goal by Justin Medlock in 2016.
  • And, one more, just in case you might think this is simply a horrific 15-year stretch for the Bombers: there have been 56 Labour Day meetings between these two teams dating back to 1949. Over that span the Bombers are just 19-37.

Gulp.

Interestingly – and you know we just HAD to point this out here – the two biggest games in the history of Mosaic Stadium, which opened in 2017, were the 2018 West Division Semi-final and the 2019 West Final, both of which were won by the Bombers. Winnipeg also won the first-ever regular season game at Mosaic, in a 43-40 overtime victory on Canada Day in 2017.

So, big picture, there is that.

Still, with respect to this particular weekend and in examining the troubles of the Bombers 1-14 run in the last 15 years there are some common themes beyond the homefield advantage the Riders get from playing in front of a capacity crowd in their signature game. We analyzed four basic statistics in the last 15 Labour Day Classics to see if there were trends that spoke to why these games were such blowouts – the turnover ratio, whether the Bombers were trailing or winning after the first quarter and at halftime and total first downs.

Interestingly, in their only Labour Day win over the past 15 tries – 2016 – the Bombers were winning after the first quarter and at halftime, won the turnover ratio 4:0 and were just slightly behind in first downs, with 21 to Saskatchewan’s 24.

The turnover ratio is an obvious one, given no statistic continually impacts the outcome in football than winning or, at least, tying in the takeaway/giveaway department. To that end: In the last 15 years the Bombers won the turnover ratio just three times, tied it on two others, but lost it on 10 occasions. Dating back to 2005 the Bombers have lost the Labour Day turnover ratio by a combined 39-17.

There’s an old saying in football that ‘it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.’ Well, when it comes to the Labour Day Classic it is most-definitely how you start.

The Bombers have trailed after the first quarter a whopping 11 times. It’s not just that the Bombers are down early, it’s that they have been trailing in the most hostile environment they’ll face all year – save for a playoff game right back at Mosaic. In seven of the last 15 LDC’s the Bombers have trailed by at least a touchdown, with the biggest deficit in 2017, when the club trailed 24-3 before falling 38-24.

Related to the above – at least, in terms of the uphill climb after falling behind – is tracking whether the Bombers were ahead or down at the intermission.

Dating back to ’05 the Bombers have been down at halftime 10 times and lost all 10, and are just 1-4 in the Labour Day Classics they did manage to lead at the break – the lone win, again, coming in 2016 when the club held a 16-3 edge.

And, finally, we looked at first downs because there’s long been the belief that the best way to silence a rabid, hostile crowd is for the offence to stay on the field and at least gobble up field position if not scoring.

Dating back to ’05 the Bombers have had more first downs than the Riders in only three Labour Day Classics – one game finished tied in first downs – while Saskatchewan held an advantage 11 times.

All of this, not surprisingly, means both diddly and squat to Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea. He’s never bought into the notion that past history can somehow influence future events and stressed that the team that heads into Mosaic Sunday afternoon is different from the team in ’19 and so on.

“Until you tell me (the Labour Day history) hasn’t been good, I wouldn’t know that necessarily,” said O’Shea this week. “I don’t get that sense, probably because every year is a new year, a new team, a different opponent – same jersey, but a different group of guys.

“I don’t try to compound the issue by looking historically at what happened. I don’t know if how we played in 2019 has any bearing on how we play this year. It’s different every year. I certainly don’t think this way – at no point in games do I ever feel that things are snowballing against us, no matter what the score.”

Interestingly, the last two Labour Day Classics have been particularly close, with the Riders winning 19-17 on a last-second field goal in 2019 and 31-23 in 2018.

“I would have no idea if you told me the (Labour Day Classic) record, but I don’t believe we’ve won too many,” said Jake Thomas, the Bombers’ longest serving player. “It seems like we have a better record there when we play them on the non-Labour Day games. We seem to win a lot of those when we’re there and not as many on Labour Day. I don’t know if it’s anything too much in particular. The last two have been pretty close with game-winning drives.

“Obviously it’s a big game for both provinces. And we want to win this game for everyone here in Manitoba.”

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