There’s nothing quite like playing against a former coach or teammate to get a team fired up and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are no exception.
The Canadian Football League unveiled its fourteen-game regular season schedule on Tuesday. The Blue Bombers will play a Grey Cup rematch with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Week 1 and a double-header against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in early September.
One element missing from Winnipeg’s schedule is a game against the Ottawa Redblacks. The CFL appears to have eliminated contests between certain teams as part of shortening the season from eighteen to fourteen games amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Not playing against Ottawa means that the Blue Bombers won’t have a chance to face former offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice, who left the team in December 2019 to become the head coach of the Redblacks.
“That was just disappointing. I was really hoping we could get a chance to face off against them,” said offensive lineman Patrick Neufeld. “Ottawa’s always a great team and a great organization to play against, so that one sucks but who the hell knows what happened. Maybe we’ll see them in the playoffs.”
Neufeld spent almost five seasons blocking for Matt Nichols, who was acquired via trade from Edmonton midway through the 2015 season. The veteran passer led Winnipeg to a 7-2 start in 2019 before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 10 against the B.C. Lions.
Zach Collaros was acquired at the trade deadline to take over from a struggling Chris Streveler and helped Winnipeg reach the Grey Cup, where they upset Hamilton by a score of 33-12.
“I’m very grateful to Paul and Matt, obviously, for their guidance when I first got there,” said Collaros. “Being able to speak the same language with coach LaPo … made it easy for us to communicate.”
“Matt and I have been in the league for a long time, so we’ve been around a lot of the same guys and seen the same coverages. Anytime you get a veteran in the room you can talk ball with, it makes your life a lot easier and a lot better. It was a real joy and pleasure working with those guys and I’m sure they’re disappointed that they’re not playing the Bombers.”
Defensive end Willie Jefferson offered tongue-in-cheek speculation that LaPolice petitioned the CFL not to schedule his team against the reigning champions. Nobody would have blamed the coach for doing so, considering how the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player terrorized opposing quarterbacks in 2019.
“That’s probably one thing — him just not probably wanting to play his old team,” said Jefferson with a chuckle. “Our defence kind of knows his tendencies and things like that, so I guess that’s a good thing for him to try to stay away from us as a team.”
“He’s trying to keep a loss out of that loss column for them.”