Menu
@
September 21, 2016

Honouring Bob Irving

The Winnipeg Football Club will officially welcome three new members to the hall of fame at this week’s annual Legacy Dinner: players Bob Molle and John Helton and builder Bob Irving.

This is the second of three profiles on the new inductees.

Previously: John Helton and Bob Molle.

 

The question hangs in the air for a moment. Bob Irving has posed it and now he’s searching for his own answer.

“Sometimes you wonder about how fate intervenes in your life,” began Irving this week, while watching the Winnipeg Blue Bombers practice. “Here’s a story that relates to that…”

And with that, the man affectionately known as ‘Knuckles’ begins a tale that, as always, has the listener sliding to the edge of his or her seat in anticipation. This is arguably one of Irving’s best skills and the main reason why the long-time Bombers play-by-play voice is the latest builder being added to the Winnipeg Football Club’s Hall of Fame: The man’s gift is his ability to tell a story.

It’s just that, as humble as he is, that story is rarely about himself.

A little background is in order here before we let Knuckles (a moniker hung on him by ‘Cactus’ Jack wells because of his fear of flying) proceed…

bob irving

Born in Regina 66 years ago, Irving was a sports fanatic in his second year at the University of Regina and pursuing a business administration degree when he put down his pen and paper to chase his dream of becoming a sports announcer.

“I hooked up with a guy at CKCK in Regina, Doug Alexander, who helped me practice some reading and record it and then listen to it,” Irving explained. “I’d go down to their station just about every night and read news and sportscasts onto a reel-to-reel tape and then listen back. He coached me and after two or three months suggested I send a bunch of tapes out to see if I could get a job.

“I sent out tapes to small radio stations in Saskatchewan and got hired by CJSL in Estevan in 1969. I was making $200 a month. I didn’t do any sports, only news and general reporting and I knew I had to do that, take whatever job you could get, and hope it would lead into some kind of sports job.”

Irving spent six months in Estevan before landing a gig at CKX in Brandon as a disc-jockey, TV host and part-time sports announcer.

And three years later is where we pick up Irving’s tale of fate…

“I had met Ken ‘Friar’ Nicolson, who was the sports director at CJOB, at a Wheat Kings game in Brandon,” Irving recalled. “And later at the Grey Owl golf tournament in the spring of 1973, I bumped into him in the parking lot of the golf course. Just out of the blue. We chatted and he told me they had an opening in the sports department and for me to send in my tape. I did and they hired me. Remember, back then you just didn’t hear about openings like that out of the blue.

“They put me on the air right away doing the morning and afternoon sports because Ken was doing the WHA Jets play-by-play and I was also covering different things like curling. We covered everything back then and I was running around but loving it because I had finally landed on the job I had aspired to get.”

A year into his tenure at CJOB, Nicolson approached Irving again with another opportunity. ‘The Friar’ was the voice of both the Jets and the Blue Bombers at the time and, weary of juggling both and with a conflict in the schedule, he came to Irving with not so much of a demand, but an assignment.

“He said, ‘We need you to do football.’ I had never done play-by-play, but they said not to worry about it,” said Irving with a chuckle.

“The next thing you know I’m in a booth with Kenny Ploen and Jack Wells and Jack Matheson… a young punk from Regina still wet behind the ears and I’ve got these legends around me.”

Bob Irving

“It was pretty intimidating at first, but they were great. They were such nice people who took me under their wing. I look back at it now and think how lucky I was just to have that opportunity.

“And so I often wonder if I hadn’t met him in the parking lot if I would have known about the job and… well, who knows.”

It’s a heckuva question, if only because over the years Irving’s voice has become synonymous with the Blue Bombers. He has been the team’s storyteller for more than four decades now, calling games since 1974 – including a four-year stint on television for the old Canadian Football Network when CJOB lost the broadcast rights.

Passionate about the Bombers and especially about the Canadian Football League, Irving has had the press box at Investors Group Field – the Bob Irving Media Centre – named in his honour, is a member of the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour (1995), was inducted into the Football Reporters of Canada wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1997 and was made a member of the Order of Manitoba, a civilian honour for ‘merit in the province’ in 2014.

There’s more…

In 2015, Irving was honoured with the Hugh Campbell Distinguished Leadership Award, presented annually by the CFL to the ‘individual who has strengthened the league, Canadian football, along with solidifying their place in Canada’s sports culture.’

Now, Irving will wave off the following analogy because of his humility, but we’ll say it anyway: in many ways Bob ‘Knuckles’ Irving is Winnipeg’s version of Vin Scully, the legendary play-by-play voice of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers.

“I truly believe you have to be who you are. You can’t imitate anybody’s style,” said Irving. “I’ve always been a bread-and-butter guy, but somebody told me early on that you are painting a picture for people because they aren’t seeing the games, that you have to be very specific and detailed. I took that to heart. I just call the game the way I see it. I’ve never tried to sound like anybody.

“You have to tell the truth, too. You don’t have to be over-board critical, but you do have to tell the truth. I just describe what I see and if the team is not going well, they’re not going well and there’s no sugarcoating it. You need to be honest with the listener.”

Irving’s three kids – Kyle, Reid and Ashley – are all adults now and have given him and his wife Daye seven grandchildren. And so, this comes up often lately: how much longer will he be slipping on the headset to call Bomber games?

“That’s a question I have a hard time answering,” said Irving. “I still enjoy it and we still have two years left on our broadcast agreement and I plan on doing those. At that point I’ll be 68. I don’t know… I was reading a story the other day about Vin Scully, who is 88 and still doing games. I’ll be lucky to be alive at 88.

“All I know is I’ll miss it when I’m not doing it any more. It’s still cool being the voice of the Bombers… there’s only nine of us in the country who can say they are doing pro football on the radio. That’s not an ego thing, but it is neat.

“I’ve been really fortunate to have gotten a chance to do this. It’s been a great ride, it really has.”

Bob Irving 2

BOB IRVING

Bob ‘Knuckles’ Irving began his broadcasting career in Estevan, Sk, moved to Brandon in 1970 and joined CJOB in Winnipeg in 1973 where he instantly became part of the Bombers broadcast crew.

A humble and classy sort, Irving is being inducted in the builder category as his service to the football club goes far beyond his capacity as the play-by-play voice.

He was induced into the Football Reporters of Canada wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1997, had the media room at Investors Group Field – the Bob Irving Media Centre – named in his honour in 2013, was made a member of the Order of Manitoba, a civilian honour for ‘merit in the province’ in 2014. In 2015 Irving was honoured with the Hugh Campbell Distinguished Leadership Award, presented annually since 2006 to the individual who has ‘strengthened the league, Canadian football, along with solidifying their place in Canada’s sports culture.’

Irving is also a member of the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour (1995) and is a Curl Manitoba Honoury Life Member (1986).