The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are a bad football team. This is a well-documented phenomenon that shouldn’t be surprising news to anyone who’s followed the blue gold for any part of the past decade. What may come as a surprise, though, is that the Bombers are poised to reach a level of ineptitude that has yet to be seen in the CFL’s sixty-year history.
The Winnipeg Football Club will miss the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season after BC’s victory over Toronto eliminated the blue and gold from post-season contention last night. This ties Winnipeg’s longest playoff drought in club history (1967-1970) and ranks among the fourteen worst playoff droughts in CFL history. Of these fourteen playoff droughts, eleven lasted four seasons (Winnipeg’s current drought included). The three remaining droughts lasted as follows: Toronto, five seasons (1962-1966); Calgary, six seasons (1972-1977); and Saskatchewan, eleven seasons (1977-1987). This means that if the blue and gold fail to make the playoffs next year, the 2012-2016 Blue Bombers would rank among the four most hapless franchise eras in league history.
Worse yet, the Bombers have only made the playoffs once (2011) in the past seven seasons. This mark already ranks among the six worst seven-year runs in CFL history, with the 1971-1977 Calgary Stampeders, 1974-1981 Toronto Argonauts, 1977-1987 Saskatchewan Roughriders, 1995-2001 Roughriders, and 2002-2008 Hamilton Tiger-Cats being the only other clubs that have failed to make the playoffs at least twice in a seven-year span. One more playoff-free season would put the Bombers in a tie with the 1974-1981 Argonauts as the second-worst teams ever when assessed on playoff qualification over a span of eight years or more, behind only the 1977-1987 Roughriders.
It’s important to note that the CFL has put its teams on significantly more even-footing in recent years than was often the case throughout league history. For one, the CFL’s crossover rule wasn’t instituted until 1996. This means that many teams — the vast majority of which played in the CFL’s West Division — missed the playoffs in various seasons from 1956 to 1995 despite possessing a better record than one or more of the playoff teams in the opposite division. One extreme example of this occurring was the 1981 CFL season that saw the 5-11 Ottawa Rough Riders host the 3-13 Montreal Alouettes in the Eastern Division Semi-Final. Toronto (2-14) was the only eastern team to finish out of the playoffs that year, while Saskatchewan (9-7) and Calgary (6-10) failed to qualify in the west despite boasting better records than three of the four teams in the East Division. If the crossover rule had existed prior to 1977, the Roughriders would have made the playoffs twice (1977 and 1981) during their eleven-year drought from 1977-1987.
The CFL took another step toward league parity in 2006 when they implemented a league salary cap. Teams were no longer able to utilize off-field financial success to pay out extravagant player contracts other CFL outfits couldn’t afford. This leveled the playing field, as evidenced by the recent turnover in Grey Cup appearances. Since 2006, seven of the CFL’s nine teams have made multiple Grey Cup appearances (BC, 2006, 2011; Calgary, 2008, 2012, 2014; Saskatchewan, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2013; Winnipeg, 2007, 2011; Toronto, 2012; Montreal, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010; Hamilton, 2013, 2014). The remaining teams, Edmonton and Ottawa, currently hold at least a share of first in their respective divisions and could easily meet in this year’s Grey Cup in Winnipeg.
With these factors in mind, a reasonable argument could be made that one more playoff-free season in the ‘Peg would make the 2009-2016 Winnipeg Blue Bombers the worst era for any CFL franchise in league history. It would be an unprecedented mark of incompetence deserving of the merciless, unbridled criticism it would be sure to receive from fans and media alike.
As both a Bomber fan and member of the CFL media, it’s difficult to express my sadness and frustration in writing this article. To put it simply, Bomber fans deserve better.
Bomber fans deserve better.
John Hodge, Blue Bomber Talk