The formerly-winless Alberta Golden Bears managed to hold off the UBC Thunderbirds Friday in Edmonton as the 'Birds dropped into last place in the Canada West. (Photo property of Cara Creatives supplied by University of Alberta athletics)
Feature University Football

The mystery of UBC football: Following Friday’s loss at Alberta, where has the Thunderbirds’ magic gone?

As quickly as a sweater can unravel, so too, it seems, can a national championship-contending football team’s much-hyped Canada West campaign.

It was hard not to shiver a little Friday night over the fading fortunes of the once-mighty UBC Thunderbirds (1-4), whose inexplicable downward spiral added another layer of mystery to a past few weeks of chaotic mayhem following a 26-21 loss in Edmonton to the formerly winless Alberta Golden Bears (1-4).

If the season were to end now, UBC would finish in last place, a concept which, at season’s dawn, would have seemed unimaginable.

It’s UBC’s first four-game conference losing streak since it lost the last three games of 2013 and its 2014 opener. It’s the team’s first four-game in-season losing streak since they lost the first four games of 2012.

We’re talking very recent history here, of course, but less recent than  a 2015 Vanier Cup national title and a current streak of three straight Hardy Cup appearances.

So many championship components still remain.

Yet here we are, left wondering why these pieces no longer seem to want to fit.

Even with a phantom completion given to the ‘Birds on their potential game winning drive in the final minute of play, the Thunderbirds still came up achingly short.


There was a purposeful start that gave UBC a 10-0 lead, there were the usual extended periods of ineffectiveness (on Friday stoked by perhaps as many as seven dropped passes), and then there was the attempted rally that, which as of late, seems to only magnify the fact that the magic has suddenly gone missing.

“It’s been like that in three of our four losses,” said UBC head coach Blake Nill, who never dodges the questions but must be wondering what is left to say shy of letting a win speak for itself. “We have to make the plays, but we also need to put ourselves in a position where we don’t have to make them (to win).

“The Alberta coaching staff did a great job because we didn’t have an answer for them on offence, we didn’t have an answer for them on defence, and we did not have an answer for them on special teams.”

So now, it looks like UBC’s season will come down to trying to reel in either Manitoba or Regina, a task which will likely go down to the final game of the season. Alberta, of course, would have to co-operate by losing some games.

And if UBC runs the table coming off this coming week’s conference-wide bye, they’ll be 4-4 and would have thus swept the Bisons and Golden Bears in their respective season series.

UBC has two of its last three at home, with Saskatchewan (Oct. 12) and Alberta (Oct. 20) followed by the capper at Manitoba (Oct. 27).

This is a mystery, one which for UBC fans, has unraveled in all of the wrong ways.

All that can happen now?

There are three more chapters remaining to see if any kind of happy ending is indeed possible.

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