WINNIPEG - It really has been home sweet home for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2011.
Sitting with a CFL-leading 6-1 record heading into Friday's home game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (4-3), Bomber players are feeling the love from fans who are thrilled to erase the memory of last season's disappointing campaign.
"It's been a lot of fun," quarterback Buck Pierce said after Thursday's walk through. "Everybody's been great.
"There's been a few meals passed my way and stuff like that. (Winnipeg is) just a generous community and it feels good as a player to give them something to be proud of."
Winnipeg's only loss came at home — a one-point loss to Calgary on July 14th — but the team has experienced tremendous support at the gate.
Just over 30,000 fans will pack Canad Inns Stadium Friday after 500 temporary seats were added and sold for the game.
The extra seats were also scooped up for the Sept. 11 home date against Saskatchewan — the club's fourth consecutive full house.
"It's been a great atmosphere to be around, probably the best I've been around in six years," Bomber centre Obby Khan said.
"All the 'Oh you guys are so close' (from last season) have all turned into 'Oh you guys are so awesome.'"
The Bombers lost nine games last year by four or fewer points — a CFL record — and another by seven points to finish 4-14.
Winnipeg is on its first four-game win streak since 2003, and it's the first time since 1984 the team has started 6-1.
Khan and Pierce expect a battle against the Ticats, who have won four of their last five games.
Friday marks the second of three games this season between the East Division rivals and a win by the Bombers would give them the edge if it came down to a tiebreaker in the standings.
"We have a chance right now going into Week 9 to get the season series — that's huge, that's huge," Pierce said. "It's a four-point game. We have a good opportunity. We have a sold-out crowd, we're here at home, we're playing well, we have momentum.
"But they're playing well, too. It's going to be a good game with a lot of energy and I think they'll be some big plays that will decide it."
The Bombers came from behind and defeated the Ticats 24-16 in the season-opener on July 1, holding Hamilton scoreless at home in the second half.
Ticats quarterback Kevin Glenn was pulled with just under nine minutes left in the game.
The former Bombers pivot said he's not treating Friday's rematch as anything special.
"It's any other game," Glenn said prior to his team's departure to Winnipeg. "We always have something to prove when we come out on the field — because it's the nature of football, because of the nature of the sport.
"You always want to win so you're always out there trying to prove that you can play and that you can win."
As Winnipeg's offence slowly improves, it's the defence that's been the backbone so far. The group leads the league in fewest points allowed (130), interceptions (11) and sacks (29).
The players even started calling their defence "Swaggerville" and have sold nearly 1,700 T-shirts since early August featuring the new moniker.
The defence will get a boost Friday when veteran defensive tackle Doug Brown returns to the field after missing two games with a broken big toe.
Hamilton head coach Marcel Bellefeuille said his team is preparing for Winnipeg's defence as it would for any other.
"We give every defence the same respect and prepare and focus on what we need to do and what we need to do well and make sure our execution’s where it needs to be," he said.
Winnipeg's lineup will also include two names that haven't been on the roster sheet for a long time.
Linebacker Henoc Muamba, the first-overall pick in this year's CFL draft, will make his debut on special teams after returning from a knee injury he suffered in the pre-season opener.
"I'm not really nervous, just excited and thrilled to be able to participate in a game," the St. Francis Xavier University grad said.
Receiver Greg Carr is also back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch for a few weeks after he recovered from a hamstring injury in the season opener.
Carr will start in place of Terence Jeffers-Harris, who may still be in the lineup. Coming off Winnipeg's roster is linebacker Marcellus Bowman, who has a case of turf toe. Merrill Johnson is expected to get his second start of the season in place of Bowman.