The list of accolades on Bob Cameron’s football resumé is as long as it is impressive.
To wit, he remains the Canadian Football League’s ‘Iron Man’, having played in more consecutive games than any other player in the loop’s grand history – 353 – in one of those records that seems destined to remain unbroken.
Cut eight times before he landed permanent work with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and then kicking for 23 seasons (1980-2002) until the age of 48, Cameron is a Canadian Football Hall of Famer, a Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Famer, and widely regarded as one of the best punters ever to put foot to pigskin on either side of the border.
And so, there are any number of superlatives that could be trotted out to describe his illustrious career from ‘consistent’, ‘durable’, ‘reliable’, ‘proficient’ and even ‘weathered.’
Yet here is Cameron – announced today as the latest inductee to the Blue Bombers Ring of Honour – insisting another term should be used to describe his career.
“It’s luck, it really is,” began Cameron in a long chat with bluebombers.com. “It’s pretty amazing for a punter to be in any hall of fame or be honoured like this. And I have to say that I have won way too many awards in my life that I don’t deserve.
“From the Hec Crighton back in university to all-star awards… I didn’t deserve any of that. There were guys way better than me. I don’t know how this happened, I swear to God. But, you know what?,” added Cameron with a chuckle, “I’m not giving them back.”
And to those that know him well and call him a friend or a teammate, that answer might best describe Cameron. A gifted storyteller, Cameron’s long and sometimes tortuous path to regular work with the Bombers gave him a heightened sense of humility and a self-effacing sense of humour.
Now, before you thumb your nose at Cameron’s claim that luck played such an important role in his career, hear the man out fully and completely.
“You have to remember, I was holding on by the skin of my teeth for I don’t know how many years at the start of my career,” said Cameron. “Now to have all these accolades… I mean, I believe in luck and I’ve had an incredible amount in my life.
“People say, ‘You make your own luck.’ No, if (then Bombers kicker) Bernie Ruoff hadn’t been hit with a drug charge in 1979 I would have been working for an oil company in Alberta for the rest of my life and never would have even come here.
“It was one of those ‘luck’ things. Think about this… Bob Vespaziani – who was my university coach for five years – then becomes the special-teams coach in Winnipeg and calls me up after the Ruoff thing and says, ‘Hey Bob, you want to give it another shot?’ I mean, how lucky is that?”
Still, when Cameron arrived in Winnipeg in 1980 he hadn’t had a lick of luck in any of his attempts to turn a solid college career – a quarterback and kicker at Acadia University, he was this country’s top college player in 1977 – into a gig as a professional. Drafted in the first round by the Edmonton Eskimos in 1977, Cameron had try-outs with the Esks and later the Ottawa Rough Riders, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, Calgary Stampeders before his shot with the Bombers. Back then, CFL rosters featured just 32 players and the punting chores often fell to a position player who dabbled in kicking, rarely to a specialist who only punted.
He had earned his first real shot with the Bombers in 1980, only to be told just before a game in Hamilton – near his hometown of Ancaster – that he was being cut. It’s a story Cameron has told before, but bears repeating.
“So here I am in Hamilton and in the pre-game meal (then-Bombers head coach) Ray Jauch taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Yeah, you’re cut. We’re going to let Gerald Kunyk punt in this game,” Cameron recalled. “I’m like, ‘What?!?!’ I had bought tickets for my parents, my buddies, my high-school football coaches. You talk about getting slapped in the face… put it this way: my confidence wasn’t exactly at its highest at that point.
“But Gerald had a terrible game with a 35-yard average or something. It was like I had a voodoo doll and stabbed him every time he went to punt. He was a good punter, but I just thought I was better.
“After we got back to Winnipeg I went to Bob Vespaziani and said, ‘Bob, I think I’m getting royally screwed. I’m better than this guy. What can I do to get my job back?’ Bob passed away last year, but I can remember him giving me the best advice. He said, ‘You’ve got to go into Ray Jauch’s office and tell him what you think. Grow some balls and get in there.’ I’m thinking, ‘I’ve been cut eight times and I’m going to do what?!’ But I sucked it up and went into Ray’s office and told him I thought they were evaluating punters wrong and that they needed to copy game conditions and that each punt should be charted for hang time, distance and time to get the punts off. That made it a competition. I tell him that and I think, ‘OK, I know I’m done here now’ but Ray looks at me and says, ‘All right, Bob. We’ll do exactly that.’ I’m like, ‘What? Really? Holy s—t. It’s game on now.’
“Well, you talk about pressure in Grey Cups, that was nothing compared to this. To Ray’s credit, he went back to me and I’m forever grateful.”
Still, it’s not like Cameron would settle in and get comfy immediately. He would look over his shoulder for years, forever worried another kicking candidate would be drafted or airlifted in on a moment’s notice.
Every kick, he felt, could be his last. And after getting a vote of confidence from Jauch in 1980, he truly worried about his future after the Labour Day Classic that same year.
“First punt of the game after I beat these guys out is into a hurricane,” Cameron recalled, laughing about the moment now. “We’re at our 20-yard line I punted and tried to draw a roughing-the-kicker penalty, but the ball shanks off my foot and goes about 15 yards downfield and starts bounding backward and goes out of bounds at our 12. It was a minus-eight yards punt. My next punt went five yards. FIVE. And it starts bounding backwards, too. All I could think was ‘Oh my God.’
“So it was after that game that I said to myself, ‘If I’m ever going to last in this league I have to figure out how to punt into the wind.’ After that, every day in practice whatever way the wind was blowing, I punted into it to figure out a style where I could handle it. Otherwise, I never would have lasted in Winnipeg if I didn’t know how to punt into the wind.”
Cameron would further hone his craft, concentrating on kicking in crappy conditions and the efforts paid off in full during the 1988 Grey Cup in blustery conditions in Ottawa when he was named the Most Valuable Canadian in the Bombers’ 22-21 victory over the B.C. Lions in a championship game which field position played a huge factor.
“I lived off that game for the rest of my career thank you very much,” said Cameron.
He would appear in six Grey Cups with the Bombers 1984, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1993, 2001 – and has three championship rings from the ’84, ’88 and ’90 teams.
Cameron was a four-time CFL All-Star (1988, 1989, 1990, 1993) and a six-time divisional all-star (1984, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1995) and was the Bombers Most Outstanding Canadian Player in 1988 and 1998. He was inducted into the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame in 2003, the Nova Scotia Football Hall of Fame in 2009, Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2010, and the Acadia University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2013.
He and his wife Louise are the proud parents of four – Brett and Shane are both doctors in Winnipeg, twins Ainsley and Avery are attending Acadia – Cameron has called Winnipeg his full-time home since 1983 and built a successful business career as a rental property owner and landlord.
His Ring of Honour ceremony will take place at halftime of the Bombers’ next home game on Friday, September 27th versus the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Cameron is the lone Ring of Honour inductee for 2019 and now joins a group of legends that includes Chris Walby, Ken Ploen, Gerry James, Milt Stegall, Dieter Brock, Leo Lewis, Bud Grant, Herb Gray, Doug Brown, Jack Jacobs and Fritz Hanson.
To read about the other Ring of Honour inductees, click here.
“I keep saying how lucky I was, but It was my dream to play and I loved every game,” said Cameron. “I always said playing professional football was like you were in high school and you were getting paid.
“I was lucky I played on incredible teams with incredible players. I was the punter and in a lot of games I had no effect on it at all. Those guys won all the games. Not me. I was there cheering them on, for crying out loud.
“I played with many, many hall of famers and some great coaches. But think about it, what if I had made it in Ottawa and then the team folded like they did (on the eve of the 1987 season)? All of it, as I said, was just pure luck.”