September 1, 2018

In My Words | Bob Irving

Editor’s note: Bob ‘Knuckles’ Irving is an institution in the province. Imminently respected, his iconic voice has been a fixture on the sports scene, and especially in association with the Blue Bombers. On September 1st Irving celebrated his 45th anniversary at CJOB and asked him to put a few thoughts to paper…

It was August of 1972.  Daye and I had been married for a year, we were nicely settled in Brandon.  She was working as an X-ray technician, and I was doing some DJ-ing and hosting at CKX Radio and TV in Brandon.  My ultimate goal had always been to land a job as a sports reporter someday, but we were quite comfortable with the way things were.

That’s when our lives changed.

To backtrack a bit, In June of that year I had a chance encounter with the late Ken ‘The Friar’ Nicolson – then the Sports Director of CJOB – in the parking lot of the Clear Lake Golf Course during the Grey Owl golf tournament. I had met Ken a year earlier and during our conversation at the golf course, he advised me they had an opening in the CJOB sports department and suggested that I send in an audio tape and a letter of application.

Two months later, in August, CJOB’s Program Director John Cochrane phoned and offered me a job as Nicolson’s right-hand man.  As excited as I was to finally get a chance to do what I had always dreamt of doing, little did I know my sportscasting ship had come in.

Within days of my arrival at CJOB in September of 1973, I was hosting a football show with Ken Ploen and Mitch Zalnasky. And less than two years later, with Nicolson unable to handle both the Winnipeg Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers play-by-play because of conflicts between the two schedules, I was told I would have to take over the call of Blue Bomber games. I had never done play-by-play, and I was 24-year-old, wet-behind-the-ears cub reporter. And I was scared to death.

But through the encouragement of Ploen, Zalnasky and media legends Jack Wells and Jack Matheson, who were involved in our broadcasts, I launched my Blue Bomber play-by-play career at the old Autostade in Montreal with Dieter Brock quarterbacking the Bombers.

I don’t remember much about that game, but I will never forget how utterly thrilled I was to be working alongside such a star-studded crew and how exciting it was to do play-by-play.  I was also so grateful for the friendship and support those legends and their wives showed to Daye and I, a couple of innocent kids from the prairies.

The rest, as they say, is history. CJOB lost the Blue Bombers broadcast rights for a period in the 1980s, but we continued our extensive coverage of the team. We did pre and post-game shows for all games, home and away, I travelled with the two Jacks, Wells and Matheson, and it was during this time that Cactus Jack launched the enormously popular “Happy Honker Award” which fans still talk about today.

When we regained the broadcast rights, retired Blue Bombers Hall of Famer Joe Poplawski became my colour commentator, and it allowed me to become good friends with not only one of the greatest players in Canadian Football League history, but truly one of the finest people I have ever met. Geoff Currier, Mitch Zalnasky and now Doug Brown have also worked with me on the broadcasts, and they have all been fantastic partners.

As I look back at my 45 years covering the Blue bombers and my 45 years at CJOB, I consider myself to be one of the most fortunate people who has ever worked in the broadcasting business. I could fill a few pages with my memories of all the exciting football the Bombers have given their fans, the great players and coaches, the highs and yes, the lows, that the club has travelled through.

Suffice it to say that through these 45 years, I have had a blast. Daye and I raised three wonderful children, all of whom are Blue Bomber fans – although they do tend to slip off the bandwagon from time to time – and all of whom still live in Winnipeg with five of our seven grandkids. We are Winnipeg “lifers”, no other place in this great country holds the same appeal as this city.

When people ask me if I enjoy what I do, I tell them that doing play-by-play is the most fun thing anyone can do in our business.  There are nine people in the entire country of Canada who get to do professional football play by play… and I am one of them. Wow.

I feel lucky and privileged to have survived 45 years at the same great radio station, CJOB, and to have been able to cover virtually every Blue Bomber game during that time.

I don’t know when it will end, but man, it has been a great ride.