Written by: Brian Snelgrove
He arrived in Winnipeg in the summer of 1974, slated to be a potential back-up to incumbent Don Jonas. A decade later, he would depart as one of the greatest quarterbacks in Blue Bomber history.
Ralph “Dieter” Brock was a graduate of Jacksonville State University whose football career led him to the CFL Hall of Fame when it took a detour north of the border that fateful summer.
“I was going to wait for the NFL draft,” says Brock. “I knew a little about the CFL from watching games on television but not a whole lot more than that.”
“Blue Bomber Head Coach Bud Riley made me an offer, then upped the offer,” says Brock, now 59 and living in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. “He said he would only sign a few quarterbacks as back-ups so I thought I had a pretty good chance at making the team. So I agreed to come to Winnipeg.”
“Initially it was an adjustment to play up there, with the extra man, all the motion, one less down and so on. It was a faster paced game.”
Brock proved a fast learner. Following the trade of Jonas to Hamilton for Chuck Ealey the year he arrived, Brock assumed the starting role and went on to a ten year (1974-83) career with the Bombers. He led Winnipeg to the playoffs four straight years (1975-78) in the 70’s.
Nearly 30 years later Brock still holds virtually every Winnipeg Blue Bomber major passing record. He is the career leader with 29,623 passing yards. He has the most completions in a career with 2,167 and most attempts with 3,777. He also has the Bomber record with six seasons throwing for more than 3,000 yards: including 1976, ’77 and ’78. “It’s really a tribute to a lot of outstanding guys I played with, receivers and offensive linemen,” says Brock. “We had one of the best receiving corps in the CFL and is also a credit to Ray Jauch who came to us in 1978 and the system he put in really helped me with my game.”
Jauch is also credited with the infamous ‘name change’ from “Ralph Brock” to “Dieter Brock”.
“Dieter was my middle name but when Ray took over he wanted to call me Dieter. I was fine with that,” says Brock.
Brock’s stellar play in the 70’s also set the stage for him winning back-to-back CFL Most Outstanding Player awards in 1980 and ’81.
As for not getting to the Grey Cup in the 70’s, Brock and the Bombers came close. “One year we beat Saskatchewan every time we played them in the regular season and lost to them in the playoffs. They went on to the Grey Cup,” he says. “In a playoff game against B.C. it had rained the whole game and right at the end we had a third down with time running out. I threw a pass to a wide open Mike Holmes in the end zone and a defender got a finger on it and knocked it away. It is the one play I will always remember.”
Brock counts Dave Fennel, Bill Baker, Dan Kepley and John Helton as the best he played against. “They were all tough,” he says.
“It was great playing in Winnipeg, there’s a misconception that I didn’t like it there and it is not true at all,” says the Blue Bomber star who was traded to the Tiger-Cats for Tom Clements in 1983. “I really liked Winnipeg. I hated to leave. We had some outstanding talent on both offense and defense. I played with Butch Norman, Buddy Brown, both from Alabama; Joe Poplawski, Rick House, Richard Crump, all great guys.”
Brock retired as a player following a season with the L.A. Rams in 1985 and promptly embarked on a new career. “I got into coaching after leaving Los Angeles in 1986,” he says. “They were starting a new football team at the University of Alabama at Birmingham so I got involved.”
Brock went on to stints as an Offensive Coordinator with Hamilton, Ottawa and Edmonton in the CFL following his playing days. He has also coached extensively at various high schools in Alabama.
Brock was elected to the CFL Hall of Fame in1995. “That was just a tremendous honour,” he says, “to join all the outstanding players that were already in it.” A decade later, in recognition of the Blue Bombers 75th anniversary, Brock was named one of the 20 All-Time Blue Bomber Greats.
Today Brock keeps busy fishing, gardening and”doing things around the house.” Married with a son and daughter he is retired from coaching but still does consulting work for various football programs.
“I have no regrets at all about my time in the CFL,” he says. “It’s a great league and I still follow it when I can down here. I try to keep up with what is going on through TV and the internet. I really, really enjoyed playing in Canada.”