It began as a fascination, grew into a way to generate content through the holidays and the Canadian Football League offseason, and finally, it morphed into a project that seemed to resonate with long-time fans of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The book is about to close on our Bombers ‘By The Numbers’ jersey series on Monday with a look at those who wore 0 or 00. Launched on Dec. 16th, the series has given fans a look at who wore each number over the years and provided a glimpse at some of the team’s storied history in the process.
Diehard fans know that numbers like 11 (Ken Ploen), 28 (Jeff Nicklin) and 75 (Tommy Lumsden) are no longer in commission as a tribute.
As well, the project – in addition to helping the organization fill in some of the blanks on its missing or incomplete history – has also given us the chance to learn some unique facts and tidbits along the way.
Bud Korchak, for example, was a flying wing and kicker from 1949-54 who had two – not one – of the best nicknames in club history: the ‘Golden Toe’ and the ‘Ukranian Gazelle.’
The series allowed us to confirm through historical sources that Geoff Crain was the last Canadian to start at quarterback for the Bombers in a win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders on September 28, 1953.
It reminded us that Cec Luining – who played for the Daniel McIntyre Maroons and Winnipeg Rods before joining the Bombers and being part of four Grey Cup championships under Bud Grant – was dubbed the ‘Selkirk Milkman’ because he helped operate the family dairy farm in his hometown.
Almuni Albert Johnson III, Quinn Magnusson and Brett MacNeil among many, reached out and so did dozens of fans offering info, pointing out errors or omissions and helping the club update our alumni and jersey numbers database.
We heard from Canadian golf author and columnist Lorne Rubenstein, who fans will recognize from his work with SCORE Magazine and the Globe and Mail, whose dad Percy played for the Bombers in 1942-43 and still has a ‘soft spot for Winnipeg and the Bombers.’
Both Lorne and his brother Mark have promised to dive into their father’s stuff to help us fill in the blanks on his number (he is among the players for which the club is missing information).
We heard from a fan who attends the same church as Harold Balla – he helped us with the correct spelling of his last name – and then Harold’s son, who provided us with the information that he wore #21 in 1945.
A man named Herman Giesbrecht, who is researching the old Ontario Rugby Football Union, e-mailed with some player background.
We heard from a fan who reminded us Demond Washington wore #15 in his first year with the Bombers (2012) and how peeved he was when he switched jerseys (and he refused to switch to Max Hall when he wore the same number, but is considering getting the name changed to Matt Nichols).
Finally, we would be remiss if we didn’t thank all those who helped, from the lady that dropped off two scrapbooks of newspaper articles from 1959-61, to Buddy Tinsley’s son Jack who provided two boxes of memorabilia.
That list must include CFL statistician and historian Steve Daniel, and especially someone like Chris Sinclair, aka @Stats_Junkie, who was absolutely invaluable in this project.
Sinclair is an avid collector and jersey number expert and was repeatedly sending in newspaper clippings and photos of lineups from old programs that helped us cross-reference the info we had or, more importantly, add to it.
This project, in the end, reinforced what we already knew: the Bombers have a deep-rooted connection with fans all over this continent that dates back to leather helmets and its inception in 1930.