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Bombers and Alouettes meet in CFL season opener at Investors Group Field

06/26/2013 04:00 EDT | Updated 08/26/2013 05:12 EDT
WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Montreal Alouettes both have a burning desire to get to a Grey Cup game and both have veteran quarterbacks who have decided leaner is better in the CFL.

But the differences start to mount when you look at the recent records of the two clubs that meet Thursday in the CFL opener at Investors Group Field, the Bombers' new $200-million stadium.

Winnipeg hasn't won a Grey Cup since 1990 and after losing to the Edmonton Eskimos in 1993, have made only three appearances, the last their losing effort in Vancouver in 2011.

The Alouettes have been there eight times in the last 13 years, winning in 2002, 2009 and 2010.

At 41, Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo, who led them to all three championships, said the prospect of another is one of the things that keeps him going.

"That's what definitely keeps bringing me back," he said after arriving in Winnipeg Wednesday.

"My whole goal is to go out there and lead my team to another championship. And I know I'm closer to the end than I am to the beginning and I do appreciate every opportunity."

At the same time, he says it doesn't weigh on him.

"I'm not going into a year thinking 'Man, I've got to get this done get this done.'"

Last season, despite finishing on top in the East, the Alouettes dropped the conference final to the eventual Grey Cup Champion Toronto Argonauts.

With an injured Buck Pierce missing two-thirds of the season, Winnipeg finished 6-12, out of the playoffs, and had a mid-season coaching change when Tim Burke took over from Paul LaPolice.

Keeping Pierce healthy is a key to turning that around this season and the offence has been rejigged to provide some new protection schemes and keep him out of harms way as much as possible.

But Pierce says he also sees a big difference in the team this season.

"Last year I think there were a lot of question marks at a lot of positions going into week one," he said of a team that saw rookies replace injured or missing veterans.

"The confidence level of those guys with a year under their belt is a big change."

Offensive co-ordinator Gary Crowton now has a full year of CFL experience under his belt and has been able to make his NFL-style hurry-up offence fit a little better into the three-down game.

He says he saw some of the results late last season, when players understood a little better what he wanted from them and his understanding of the CFL's quirks improved.

"Guys were digging down deep trying to win games and that's how we need to start out this year," he said.

With a wholesale change of its coaching staff after Marc Trestman left to coach the Chicago Bears of the NFL, Montreal also has some new wrinkles in its offence, said Calvillo.

"We've go a lot of good stuff, stuff that's brand new to this league," he said.

Another newcomer to the CFL, Mike Miller has taken over as offensive co-ordinator in Montreal and Calvillo says other teams in the league won't really know what to expect.

"We're going to try and take advantage of that."

Burke would agree, although new Montreal head coach Dan Hawkins suggests they don't know that much about Winnipeg's game plan either, after a second pre-season game when Burke rested pretty well all his starters.

"I don't think there's any advantage there," Hawkins said.

The Alouettes have added receiver Arland Bruce III to their already potent arsenal.

"He's a very quiet guy but man, does he get open," said Calvillo.

"I think it's really going to help our football team out just having another exciting weapon."

Winnipeg, meanwhile, won't know until Thursday whether last season's top CFL rookie, receiver Chris Matthews, will dress.

Calvillo, who will start in his 20th CFL season Thursday and holds not only the CFL record but the professional football record for passing yards, did a few years ago what Pierce did this past off season.

Both lost weight and changed their eating habits. Both men say they feel faster and more comfortable not carrying around the bulk conventional football wisdom said they should add to help avoid injury.

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