October 20, 2020

Top 10 Exclusive : Regular Seasons

The Winnipeg Football Club has 90 years of history to celebrate, dating way back to the days of leather helmets and the Great Depression.

Over that time there have been countless great plays authored by superstar players… and average Joes, too. There have been memorable games featuring iconic moments and, dating back to 1930, this franchise has captured a Grey Cup championship 11 times.

Each week cracks open the record book, dusts off the archives and dives deep into our collective memory banks for our Top 10 Exclusive list.

This week: Top 10 Regular Seasons

We’ve reached that chunk of the calendar when – in a pre-COVID-19 time, at least – the Canadian Football League would be serving up some of its’ most-compelling theatre.

Yes, with the leaves having fallen and the frost on the pumpkin teams would now be scrapping and clawing for playoff positions and the right to host a home playoff game.

That had us thinking about the top regular seasons in Blue Bomber history. And, to our mild surprise, of the 10 best campaigns in this franchise’s 90 seasons, only half have featured a Grey Cup championship at the end.

Here are the Top 10 regular seasons in Bombers history based on winning percentage (minimum 10 games played):

1. 1960: 14-2, .875 winning percentage

The Bombers were the two-time defending Grey Cup champions when the 1960 season opened, and their dominance continued through the regular season. Winnipeg was a perfect 8-0 on the road and it was the first team in CFL history to post 14 wins in a 16-game regular-season.

Alas, Ken Ploen broke his hand in the first game of a best-of-three West Final in Edmonton. Ploen played safety in the next two games, both in Winnipeg, with Vernon Cole taking over at quarterback. (Jim Van Pelt, who had worked so well in tandem with Ploen in 1958-59, had been drafted in the U.S. Air Force).

The Bombers then fell 10-5 and 4-2 – at home, no less – and a promising season had been flushed.

2. 1939: 10-2, .833 winning percentage

The Bombers capped off a sensational season in 1939 with an 8-7 victory over the Ottawa Rough Riders in the Grey Cup – the franchise’s second championship after also winning in 1935. What made the ’39 team special were nine of the starters were ‘homebrews’ – as Free Press sportswriter Vince Leah called them.

Jeff Nicklin recovered a fumble on a punt return late in the game, with Art Stevenson kicking the winning point.

3. 1958: 13-3, .813 winning percentage

The franchise was in the midst of the longest championship drought in its’ history at the time, having not won the Grey Cup since 1941 and losing in the big game in 1945, 1946, 1947, 1950, 1953 and 1957.

The Bombers placed six players on the Western All-Star Team – running back Leo Lewis, defensive linemen Buddy Tinsley and Herb Gray, middle guard Steve Patrick and linebacker Dave Burkholder. Winnipeg knocked off Edmonton 2-1 in the best-of-three West Final and then edged Hamilton 35-28 in what is still considered one of the greatest Grey Cup games ever played.

4. 1961: 13-3, .813 winning percentage

The 1961 season saw the Bombers grab their third championship in four years after wins in 1958 and 1959 and following the heartbreak of 1960. Winnipeg walloped Calgary in the West Final, winning 14-1 and 43-14 and then edged Hamilton 21-14 in the first Grey Cup game decided in overtime. Ken Ploen’s TD run in extra time remains one of the most-iconic moments in franchise history.

5. 1952: 12-3-1, .781 winning percentage

The Bombers finished first in the Western Interprovincial Football Union with a 12-3-1 record.

Seven players were named to the West All-Star team – QB Jack Jacobs, halfback Tom Casey, flying wing Bud Korchak, guard Jim McPherson, tackles Dick Huffman and Buddy Tinsley and guard Dean Bandiera.

But after winning the first of the WIFU best-of-three final 28-12 over Edmonton, the Bombers were then beaten 18-12 and 22-11 at home.

6. 1993: 14-4, .778 winning percentage

The Bombers season took a turn in October of that year with the club 11-4 and having already locked up first in the East Division. In a game against Sacramento, QB Matt Dunigan suffered a severed Achilles tendon, ending his season.

The club still managed to win its’ final three regular-season games with Sam Garza at QB, but saw their promising year come up short with a 33-23 loss to Edmonton in the Grey Cup.

7. 2001: 14-4, .778 winning percentage

The ’01 Bombers are one of the best CFL teams never to win a Grey Cup. The team started out 2-2, then cranked out a franchise record 12-game winning streak before resting personnel in the final two games.

Ironically, one of those losses at the end of the year was to an 8-10 Calgary team which would then knock off Winnipeg in the Grey Cup.

The Bombers saw Khari Jones named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award, with Doug Brown named Most Outstanding Canadian, Dave Mudge Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman and Charles Roberts the Most Outstanding Special Teams Player. But, sadly, there was no championship to complete what would have been a dream season.

8. 1957: 12-4, .750 winning percentage

The Bombers board selected Bud Grant as their head coach for 1957, asking him to turn in his cleats as a player for a headset. The club responded immediately to his stewardship, going 12-4 to finish second to Edmonton in the West.

Winnipeg won its’ West Semi-final two-game total point series 28-16 over Calgary and then knocked off Edmonton 2-1 in the best-of-three West Final. They were no match for the Ticats in the Grey Cup, however, falling 32-7.

9. 1959: 12-4, .750 winning percentage

The ’59 Bombers were 2-2 by late August, but then went on a run that saw them win 13 of their last 15 games – including through the playoffs – to claim the Grey Cup.

Jim Van Pelt led a crew of nine Bombers on the West All-Star team, including running back Charlie Shepard, end Ernie Pitts, guard Ed Kotowich, tackle Frank Rigney, defensive end Herb Gray, middle guard Steve Patrick, linebacker Garland Warren and defensive back Ken Ploen.

Shepard was named the Grey Cup MVP in a 21-7 victory over Hamilton — the first championship game to be played at Toronto’s CNE Stadium.

10. 1985: 12-4, .750 winning percentage

A year previous the Bombers had ended a long drought win a win over Edmonton in the ’84 Grey Cup. So the ’85 campaign began with a lot of hope and promise.

Winnipeg finished second to the B.C. Lions, 13-3, in the West and had two players win Most Outstanding Player Awards in Tyrone Jones (defence) and Nick Bastaja (offensive lineman).

But after knocking off Edmonton in the West Semi-Final, the Bombers fell 42-22 to a powerful B.C. team in the West Final, before the Lions knocked off Hamilton in the Grey Cup.