In a short week and a hostile environment, the Baltimore CFLs will attempt to accomplish tonight what few Canadian Football League teams have been able to the past four years:
Win in Winnipeg.
Under normal circumstances, Winnipeg Stadium is a tough place in which to win. But tonight's game against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is hardly framed in normal circumstances.
Not with the Bombers coming off a 58-19 loss in Calgary last week. Not with the Bombers' defense giving up 93 points the past two weeks. Not with Baltimore's expansion upstarts (2-1) leading the Eastern Division by a game over Winnipeg (1-2), a Grey Cup finalist last season.
O. J. Brigance, Baltimore's veteran rush end, knows what it's like to play in Winnipeg. And what to expect.
"I expect to find a hornet's nest," Brigance said. "It's just like someone going up to a hornet's nest and shaking it up the week before and then you come right behind and put a hand in it. They're going to be angry.
"I think it's going to be a tough game for us. We can't make any kind of mistake -- or many mistakes -- when we go in there. . . . They always seem to turn their game up one more notch playing at home."
The Bombers are 31-5 at home during the past four seasons. Since coach/general manager Cal Murphy arrived in 1983, they are 80-17 at home for a winning percentage of .825.
Which makes what happened last week in Calgary all the more remarkable. The Stampeders had a 50-15 lead at halftime and finished with 634 yards in total offense. A week after Winnipeg quarterback Matt Dunigan passed for 713 yards, he was outgunned by Doug Flutie, who threw for six touchdowns and ran for two more. Dunigan threw for 332 yards in the lopsided affair.
Baltimore coach Don Matthews said Flutie's five-receiver package confused Winnipeg's secondary, which "left guys wide-open."
The CFLs will run four-, five- and six-receiver sets in quarterback Tracy Ham's no-huddle offense.
One big factor, Ham said, will be the ability of Baltimore's young offensive line to cope with Winnipeg's pass rush.
"They are aggressive and like to blitz," Ham said. "We've got to be able to pick up the blitz and recognize the schemes they like to run. They try to get you confused at times."
Absent from the Winnipeg defense this year are two of the team's best players in 1993 -- linebackers Elfrid Payton, who led the league in sacks with 21, and Greg Battle. Both free agents, Payton signed with the Shreveport Pirates and Battle with the Las Vegas Posse.
The CFLs, meanwhile, come off an impressive 40-24 win over Shreveport five days ago in which they had five sacks, three by defensive tackle Robert Presbury.
"We won't get the same kind of pressure," Matthews said. "Shreveport didn't release its backs against us. They kept them in.
"You can't be in blitz if the backs are out, or somebody will be uncovered. Winnipeg is more of a sophisticated offense."
Dunigan makes it work. He is averaging 459.7 passing yards a game and 10.29 yards a pass this season. He is first in passing yards with 1,379 and third in passer efficiency behind Flutie and Ham with a rating of 110.8.
"Any time you get a quarterback who can run and has a strong arm, it makes it hard," said Baltimore halfback Ken Watson.
"I think we can get to him," said middle linebacker Earnest Fields, who leads Baltimore in tackles with 16.
"We got to him in the preseason [a 45-43 overtime victory in Baltimore]. Our scheme is to keep him in contain and make him throw earlier than he wants to."
Baltimore vs. Winnipeg
Site: Winnipeg (Manitoba) Stadium
Time: 8:30 p.m.
Radio: WJFK (1300 AM)