Historians have described the 1970s as a decade of cultural change, of significant technological innovations and economic struggles.
And for fans of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, that same stretch offered its share of change, innovations and, most certainly, struggles. Yes, the 70s delivered a few brief shots at glory and introduced us to some franchise icons, but also gave the franchise’s faithful some repeated November heartache.
Let’s sum it up this way: from 1970-79 the Bombers did not win a single playoff game, going 0-6 in West Finals and West Semi-Finals combined.
The decline of the late 1960s, what with three consecutive losing campaigns, bled into 1970, when the club went 2-14. So, over a span of four seasons – 1967-70 – the Bombers were just 12-51-2, with a revolving door of personnel on the coaching staff and in the locker room.
That began to change in 1971 with the arrival of quarterback Don Jonas, a 33-year-old veteran who had been dumped by the Toronto Argonauts when they signed Notre Dame star Joe Theismann.
Jonas helped make the Bombers exciting again, as he led the CFL in scoring in 1971 – he was also the team’s kicker – en route to winning the league’s Most Outstanding Player Award as the club improved to 7-8-1 and made the playoffs.
That turnaround continued into 1972 when Winnipeg finished first in the West with a 10-6 record, but then fell 27-24 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the division final in one of the most crushing defeats in franchise history.
The club then went 4-11-1 in 1973 and Jonas was traded to Hamilton during the 1974 season for Chuck Ealey, with the Bombers also developing a hard-throwing Alabama product – Ralph ‘Dieter’ Brock – as their quarterback of the future.
The Bombers found traction again in the mid-to-late 70s with Brock, going 10-6 in both 1976 and 1977 and then 9-7 in 1978 – but then fell in the West Semi-Final in each of those three seasons before winding up the decade with a 4-12 record in a year riddled with injuries.
And so, in many respects the decade is remembered not for the choppy team success, but for the players who came along and their individual accomplishments like Jonas, Brock, running back Jim Washington, tackle Bill Frank, centre Bob Swift, receiver Mike Holmes – all of them members of the club’s hall of fame.
That would change in the decade to follow, as the 1980s brought the Bombers back into the CFL’s elite neighbourhood and delivered a pair of Grey Cup championships.
FYI: The 1970s
- Don Jonas became the first Bomber player to win the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award in 1971 (first created in 1953). That year he led the CFL in scoring and became just the fourth QB in league history to pass for over 4,000 yards after Sam Etcheverry, Tobin Rote and Peter Liske.
- Receiver Tom Scott signed with the Bombers in November of 1973, choosing to sign in Winnipeg rather than with the Detroit Lions, who had drafted him in 1973. He was the West Division’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 1974 and posted his first 1,000-yard season in 1977 with 1,079 yards and 10 touchdowns on 66 catches. Scott was then involved in one of the most influential trades in Bombers history, as he was dealt to Edmonton for the rights to Joe Poplawski.
- Joe Poplawski made an immediate impact for the Bombers upon his arrival, pulling in 75 passes for 998 yards and eight touchdowns while being named the CFL’s Most Outsanding Rookie in 1978.
- The Bombers in 1970s were a combined 70-86-4 for a winning percentage of .45. The team posted just four winning seasons during the decade.