No decade in the long and storied history of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers offered more extreme highs and lows, coupled with some truly bizarre moments, than the 1990s.
The Bombers were one of the most dominant franchises in the Canadian Football League in the early part of the decade, winning the Grey Cup in 1990, losing the title games in 1992 and 1993 and also appearing in division finals in 1991 and 1994.
The 90s opened with the franchise’s third championship in seven seasons, courtesy a 50-11 mauling of Edmonton in the Grey Cup. That title, now 30 years ago, followed wins in 1984 and 1988 and was built upon a foundation of defence with stars like Tyrone Jones, James West, Rod Hill, Less Browne, Michael Gray, Darryl Sampson, Stan Mikawos, Greg Battle and a ball-control attack fronted by a tough offensive line, quarterbacked by Tom Burgess, and Robert Mimbs in the backfield.
The Bombers made arguably their biggest ever splash in free agency in 1992 by signing quarterback Matt Dunigan, but he missed part of that season before returning for the playoffs, where the club fell in the Grey Cup to the Doug Flutie-led Calgary Stampeders. A year later, Dunigan was injured again and the Bombers, led by Sam Garza, fell in the 1993 Grey Cup to Edmonton.
The Bombers were the lone franchise to vote against an expansion to the U.S., but did have subsequent success against their American rivals during the span of 1993-95 – one of the most unique stretches in CFL history that saw them play road games in Baltimore, Shreveport, Sacramento, Birmingham and Las Vegas and finish with a record of 9-7, including two playoff losses to the Stallions, their rivals from Maryland.
The club had spun its wheels in two successive campaigns in 1995-96, going 16-20 over that span. An embarrassing 68-7 loss to Edmonton in the West Semi-Final led to the dismissal of GM and head coach Cal Murphy – next to Bud Grant the most successful boss in franchise history.
The old-school Murphy was replaced by his exact opposite in Jeff Reinebold, a young, energetic career assistant coach but he struggled to find success during his less-than-two-years at the helm as the club searched for a quarterback in a league dominated by stars at the position. Reinebold was just 6-26 before he was fired during the ’98 season.
Dave Ritchie was named head coach in 1999 and he brought Brendan Taman along with him to help with rebuilding the roster. Off the field, president Bob Miles, followed by Lyle Bauer in the early 2000s, were instrumental in helping rebuild the franchise during one of its low periods as the entire CFL struggled to survive after the failed U.S. expansion.
The franchise found a financial foothold as the new millennium opened, and the wins started to follow while the Grey Cup drought grew.
FYI: The 1990s
- Winnipeg posted an incredible 59-31 record from 1990-94, but did not have a winning season until 2001. The Bombers were 7-11 in ’95, 9-9 in ’96, 4-14 in ’97, 3-15 in ’98, 6-12 in ’99 and 7-10-1 in ’00.
- Winnipeg would play host its first of four Grey Cups in 1991 – followed by 1998, 2006 and 2015. The ’91 championship, featuring Toronto and Calgary, drew a crowd of 51,985 at an expanded Winnipeg Stadium despite a temperate of -17C at kickoff.
- Bomber linebacker Greg Battle captured the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award in back-to-back seasons in 1990 and 1991. Running back Michael Richardson was named Most Outstanding Rookie in 1992, Chris Walby was the top lineman in 1993 and Gerald Wilcox the top Canadian in 1994.
- On July 14, 1994 in a game against Edmonton Matt Dunigan set a CFL record by passing for 713 yards, obliterating the old mark of 601 set a year earlier by Danny Barrett. That night two Bombers players broke the club record for receiving yards as Alfred Jackson had 308 yards and David Williams finished with 240. Jackson’s mark still stands, while Milt Stegall moved past Williams into spot with a 254-yard game in 2006.
- Eight layers/coaches from the 1990 Grey Cup team are members of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame – Cal Murphy, Greg Battle, James West, Tyrone Jones, Chris Walby, James Murphy, Danny McManus and Bob Cameron. The following players/coaches/builders from that squad are in the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame: Cal Murphy, Greg Battle, James West, Tyrone Jones, Chris Walby, James Murphy, Bob Cameron, Trevor Kennerd, Less Browne, Bob Molle, Rod Hill, Michael Gray, David Black, Paul Randolph, Stan Mikawos, Perry Tuttle, Rick House, Ken Hailey, Lyle Bauer, Mike Riley (head coach) Paul Jones (player personnel), Dave Ritchie (assistant coach), Ted Bartman (president).