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Trouble in Paradise: Bombers' QB carnival wheel keeps spinning

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' quarterback Max Hall (15) reacts after throwing an interception to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats during the second half of their CFL game in Winnipeg Friday, August 16, 2013.


Maybe the explanation is as simple as this: There's a big carnival wheel in the coaches' office at Investors Group Field and on it are the names Buck Pierce, Justin Goltz and Max Hall repeated over and over, like the suits in a deck of cards.

Every week, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers brain trust debates who should start at quarterback and, every week, it comes down to a lucky spin. Call it the Bombers Wheel of Misfortune.

Max Hall, you're up. Be good and be quick about it.

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On Tuesday, roughly 24 hours after head coach Tim Burke explained his rationale for firing offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton, the Bombers (1-6) practised with Hall running the first-team offence. It was a signal the CFL rookie would be under centre when Winnipeg plays Saturday in Guelph, Ont., against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (3-4).

Hall's second go against Hamilton (he took a 37-18 loss last Friday) comes at the expense of Goltz, who earlier this month was declared the starter for the balance of the 2013 season, and Pierce, the veteran starter, who, earlier this month, was said to be transitioning into a coaching role with the team – although he was quick to tell reporters that had never been discussed with him.

Now you know why the carnival wheel explanation fits so well.

Just how poorly the Bombers have handled their quarterbacking situation speaks loudest as to why it has been one bummer of a summer, football-wise, in the Manitoba capital. Investors Group Field is the best, new $200-million stadium in the land, built to house the Canadian-sized field, yet aching for a win to christen it.

Given what's happened to this point, it could be a lengthy wait.

The Bombers opened the 2013 regular season to a jam-packed crowd of 33,500, a little more than official capacity (33,422).

That night, with Pierce at quarterback, Winnipeg lost 38-33 to the Montreal Alouettes, only to follow up a week later with a win in Montreal. Since then, Winnipeg has averaged more than 31,000 fans per home game and lost three times by a combined score of 109-61. The overall level of play has also gotten worse.

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The Bombers are the not-so-proud owners of an offence that has scored the fewest points in the league (21.8 per game), thrown the fewest touchdown passes (five) and committed the most turnovers (25). Combine it with a defence that has been kept on the field too long for its own good and you get a better understanding why the Bombers have lost five games in a row – and could lose more.

While their CFL peers are reluctant to go on record and detail what they think about the Bombers, the consensus centres on the lack of direction. "How can the Bombers switch quarterbacks so often? Who's running the show?" are the most commonly-asked questions/assertions.

As head coach, Burke has the final say on football matters but, after backtracking on Goltz, he let his offensive coaches determine who should start. (Their spin has landed on Hall the last two games.)

Then, it was Burke firing Crowton, saying the Winnipeg offence was too U.S.-style and not as three-down friendly as it needed to be for the CFL.

"[It was] a lack of points," Burke answered when asked why Crowton was canned. "We just weren't having enough success."

Former Ticats sideline boss Marcel Bellefeuille, recently hired as a consultant by the Bombers and now the new offensive co-ordinator, insisted the scoring woes were more than just a play-calling issue.

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"The disconnect is not just with the scheme. You have to look at talent and other things."

Such as a quarterback with mobility, someone who can slide his way out of trouble, recognize defensive coverages and routinely make plays and win games.

The irony in Winnipeg is that while it flip-flops on who starts at quarterback (supposedly in search of its man of the future), it may do so at the expense of a playoff spot. As strange as it sounds, the Bombers remain on Montreal's heels, just one game removed from a possible East Division playoff berth.

Some Bombers fans believe that could happen; others lack that conviction.

A poll on the Winnipeg Free Press website asked its readers how they felt about the Bombers firing Crowton and replacing him with Bellefeuille. The top response was: "Relieved. Anybody's better than Crowton," followed by, "Skeptical. Seen this movie before."

In Winnipeg, it's a movie getting older by the loss and tougher to explain.

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About the Author
Sports writer

Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. More


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