Film: Any Given Sunday
Much like the Miami Sharks in Oliver Stone's famed football flick, the Bombers are a once-proud team that's not getting a lot of respect at the moment. They won a division championship and went to the Grey Cup game last season, but a combination of offseason attrition (particularly the retirement of defensive tackle Doug Brown, star guard Brendan LaBatte's departure in free agency and the trade of top defensive end Odell Willis) and the rest of the division's teams making big moves to improve from their less-than-great 2011 showings has meant that Winnipeg's getting overlooked by many. Whether that's fair or not, this team has a lot of the same us-against-the-world mentality that seemed to surround the Sharks at times, and in the parity-heavy CFL, they can certainly win on any given day.
Although it likely won't help their chances of winning, that mentality may become even more prevalent following the season-ending injury to running back Chris Garrett, the team's presumed starting tailback who tore his Achilles tendon in practice Tuesday. Garrett's most notable similarity to Sharks' RB Julian "J-Man" Washington (LL Cool J) is that both were in contract years, but his injury could wind up being a major setback for the Bombers. Don't buy arguments that Garrett's injury is inconsequential thanks to the team's plans to take to the air more extensively; first, new offensive coordinator and CFL newbie Gary Crowton hasn't exactly been known for airing the ball out in his recent stints, second, starting quarterback Buck Pierce didn't put up dominant stats last year, throwing 14 touchdowns against 18 interceptions and passing for just 3,348 yards with a 63.6 per cent completion rate, and third, running backs are still crucial as blockers, receiving options and change-of-pace rushing options in even the most aerial-focused offence. We'll see if guys like Bloi-Dei Dorzon and Anthony Woodson can step up in Goodson's absence, but the Bombers will certainly need some production from the RB spot. J-Man isn't the most popular or focused-on character in the film, but his efforts are crucial to the Sharks' success as well.
The most compelling parallel to Any Given Sunday may come from the quarterbacks, though. Pierce seems cut directly from the mould of Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid), a talented veteran guy who often winds up being injured and is under a significant threat of being replaced. Alex Brink and Joey Elliott may not follow "Steamin" Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx) into rap stardom, but they have many of his same qualities; lesser-known players with substantial mobility and athleticism who might just become stars if they get the opportunity. (Here's hoping they don't constantly throw up, though.) Much as the Rooney/Beamen subplot is one of the major themes of the film, the quarterback situation seems to be one of the most-scrutinized aspects of the Bombers this year.
It's Rooney, Beamen and the offence who get most of the screen time during the film's game scenes, but the Sharks' ferocious defence, coordinated by Montezuma Monroe (Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown) and led by linebacker Luther "Shark" Lavay (Hall-of-Famer Lawrence Taylor) is also critical to their playoff run. That was the case in Winnipeg last year, where the "Swaggerville" defence was crucial to the Bombers' turnaround from the worst CFL team in 2010 to the 2011 East Division championship. They've still got some loud personalities and talented guys in the secondary with players like Jovon Johnson and Jonathan Hefney, but we'll see how much swagger (and how much of a pass rush) they still have after the departure of Willis, the star Tayloresque defensive end/linebacker hybrid who terrorized defences last season.
Of course, much of Any Given Sunday is focused on the coach, Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino). At first glance, D'Amato doesn't seem to have many similarities to Winnipeg coach Paul LaPolice; D'Amato's the grizzled veteran, while LaPolice is still a relatively new head coach. Both have feuded with offensive coordinators, though, and both have been willing to tolerate team eccentricities when they're winning. Both have also proven able to motivate their players to great heights many never expected them to reach. We'll see if LaPolice can ever give a speech as good as this one, though:
Much like the Sharks' season in the film, this isn't going to be an easy year for the Bombers. They have off-field issues (the stadium), injuries and the pressure of defending their East Division championship following everyone else's high-profile upgrades, and a lot of people are already writing them off. The Sharks found a way to at least partially overcome that, though; they made a great run, even if they lost in the off-screen championship game. We'll see if the Bombers can follow in their footsteps and turn adversity into triumph.
Prediction: 8-10, fourth in East, crossover to West, loss in West semi-final.