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Tait: 'Spirited' Blue Bombers practice a sign of what's to come

Frayed tempers at a nasty training camp could foreshadow a feisty season for Winnipeg's CFL team.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols (15) throws against the B.C. Lions during the first half of CFL action in Winnipeg Saturday, October 8, 2016. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have re-signed starting quarterback Matt Nichols to a deal that will keep him with the club through the 2019 season.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols (15) throws against the B.C. Lions during the first half of CFL action in Winnipeg Saturday, October 8, 2016. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have re-signed starting quarterback Matt Nichols to a deal that will keep him with the club through the 2019 season.

They are in full gear, sweltering in the heat and scrapping every day for a shot at a regular paycheque in a game that means everything in their lives.

Knowing all that, then, what happened Monday near the end of Winnipeg Blue Bombers practice – a couple of skirmishes that made this session the nastiest to date through training camp – might be best described as simply a reflection of the high stakes at play here.

It also makes you wonder why it doesn’t happen more in this daily battle between the hungry and the hunted.

“It was a spirited practice,” said head coach Mike O’Shea. “I think, as a group, we probably needed that. We probably don’t need all the shenanigans… it was high-intensity work.”

“It’s football. I mean, we’re men,” added defensive back Kevin Fogg. “We’re out here having fun, we’re out here working to make each other better. It’s part of it.”

In many ways, the frayed tempers could also be a hint at this squad’s mindset going into the pre-season game this Thursday at Investors Group Field versus the Edmonton Eskimos and the opener in Saskatchewan on Canada Day.

The Bombers have had a large-sized chip on their collective shoulders dating back to midway through last season and the seven-game win streak that completely changed their narrative.

Matt Nichols makes no secret of that being key to his own personal motivation after being sent to the Bombers for a mid-round draft pick and reviving his career here. Andrew Harris has always had that chip and Maurice Leggett is absolutely fuelled by the same thoughts. Ditto for any number of teammates who have also had to fight and scrap to get here and are influenced their leaders’ hunger.

But, look, as much as folks in this province have seen evidence of a turnaround over the last little while, the Bombers will need more than just a playoff berth to convince the doubters and critics.

Right now there are many across this land who still don’t see this bunch as contenders, even with their 11-3 finish to the season. The Bombers are still longshots to win the Grey Cup – Vegas bookies have them at 9-1 -- ranked only ahead of Toronto (18-1) and behind Calgary (13-4), B.C. (5-1), Edmonton (11-2), Saskatchewan (6-1), Hamilton and Ottawa (7-1) and Montreal (15-2).

So what we saw Monday with the offence and defence at each other’s throats before handshakes and hugs at the conclusion of practice might just be foreshadowing what is to come today, tomorrow, into the opener and beyond.

And that fight for respect can be just as powerful a motivator as the pursuit of a title.

Ed Tait is the Blue Bombers Director of Content. His columns will appear weekly in the Metro. Follow him daily at bluebombers.com

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