November 22, 2020

Top 10 Exclusive | Grey Cup Heroes

Andrew Harris (33) of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers after winning the 107th Grey Cup game between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, AB, Sunday, November. 24, 2019. (Photo: Johany Jutras/CFL)

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 True Blue Top 10 list.

This week: Top 10 Grey Cup Heroes

The Blue Bombers now have 11 Grey Cup championships in their history, thanks to the drought-busting drama that unfolded a year ago in a memorable November run.

And in those 11 titles there have been more than a few heroes who stood tall on the grandest stage of all. Many of them are the legends in Bombers history.

There have been too many Grey Cup heroes to mention in a Top 10, but here is our list and some of the exceptional Grey Cup performances:

1. Andrew Harris, 2019 – Blue Bombers 33 Hamilton 12

We keep coming back to the most-recent Bombers Grey Cup not only because it remains so fresh – especially with no games in 2020 – but because of the significance of the game.

There were a lot of potential heroes in this game, from the work of defensive ends Willie Jefferson and Jackson Jeffcoat, to Justin Medlock kicking a record-tying six field goals.

But no individual performance stood out as much as that of Harris, who was named both the MVP and Most Valuable Canadian after his two-touchdown performance which saw him rush for 134 yards and add 35 more on five receptions and help bring the Grey Cup to his hometown.

2. Fritz Hanson, 1935 – Winnipegs 18 Hamilton Tigers 12

Hanson’s growing fame as the franchise’s first superstar was cemented in the 1935 game – the first Grey Cup won by a team from Western Canada – when he piled up over 360 yards in kick returns in the victory. Included in that was a 78-yard punt-return touchdown that was the decisive score.

The headline in The Free Press the next day: ‘Zowie! ‘Pegs Win!’

3. Ken Ploen, 1961 – Blue Bombers 21 Hamilton 14 (OT)

A touchdown by Gerry James late in the fourth quarter sent the game into overtime. And while Leo Lewis and Roger Hagberg had run all over the Tiger-Cats defence to the tune of 268 yards rushing, it was quarterback Ken Ploen who played the hero in extra time – the first Grey Cup decided in overtime.

Ploen’s 18-yard run in OT remains one of the greatest in both Grey Cup and Bombers history and helped him earn the game’s MVP honour.

4. Greg Battle, 1990 – Blue Bombers 50 Edmonton 11

The Bombers’ backbone was defence in the late 80s/early 90s and it was Greg Battle, the soft-spoken linebacker, who often stood tallest among a group of giants.

Battle was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 1990 and 1991 and in the rout of Edmonton in the ’90 championship he intercepted two passes, returning one for a TD in a brilliant performance.

5. Jim Van Pelt, 1958 – Blue Bombers 35 Hamilton 28

Van Pelt was busy in a Grey Cup still considered one of the greatest ever played.

Ken Ploen had injured his shoulder earlier in the season – he would play defensive back in the Grey Cup – and Van Pelt gave the Bombers excellent quarterback play in relief.

Norm Rauhaus blocked and recovered a punt for a TD in a critical play in the game, and Van Pelt ran for a touchdown, caught another from Leo Lewis on a trick play, kicked two field goals and four converts for 22 points – a Grey Cup record that stood until Montreal kicker Don Sweet had 23 in the 1977 game.

6. James Murphy, 1988 – Blue Bombers 22 B.C. 21

The ’88 Bombers became the first .500 club – they were 9-9 that season – to win a Grey Cup, and they did it in dramatic fashion.

Defensive end Michael Gray intercepted a tipped Matt Dunigan pass near the Bombers end zone with the Lions marching for the potential game-winning score, a play dubbed the ‘Immaculate Interception.’

James Murphy scored the Bombers only touchdown in the game on a 35-yard pass from Sean Salisbury and finished with five receptions for 165 yards – the fifth-highest receiving total in Grey Cup history.

7. Tyrone Jones, 1984 – Blue Bombers 47 Hamilton 17

The Bombers ended what was then the longest championship drought in franchise history, winning their first title since 1962. There were a number of heroes who stood out in this game, with Tom Clements being named the Offensive MVP and fullback Sean Kehoe the Top Canadian.

Jones, the dynamic linebacker/rush end, finished the day with four quarterback sacks – second-most in Grey Cup history – as the Bombers rallied from a 17-3 deficit in the first half to thoroughly maul the Tabbies.

8. Leo Lewis, 1962 – Blue Bombers 28 Hamilton 27

The infamous ‘Fog Bowl’ was played over two days – December 1-2, 1962 – as the Bombers edged the Ticats in a game delayed on the Saturday afternoon as fog rolled in off Lake Ontario and smothered Exhibition Stadium.

Lewis, later referred to by Bud Grant as the greatest player he had ever coached, was the game’s MVP after scoring two touchdowns and throwing for another to Charlie Shepard.

9. Charlie Shepard, 1959 – Blue Bombers 21 Hamilton 7

The Bombers trailed 7-4 heading into the fourth quarter before the Bombers exploded for 17 unanswered points.

Shepard capped a drive that saw Ken Ploen connect with Farrell Funston for a long gain to the Ticat two-yard line, with Ploen later finding Ernie Pitts for a score.

Shepard was named the MVP after scoring the touchdown and kicking four punt singles.

10. Jeff Nicklin, 1939 – Blue Bombers 8 Ottawa 7

The ’39 Bombers are remembered for having nine ‘homebrew starters’ – as Free Press sportswriter Vince Leah referred to them – including Jeff Nicklin, an all-star end/flying wing who had been born in Fort William, Ontario and raised in Winnipeg.

Nicklin, who would later tragically lose his life leading a group of paratroopers in World War II, recovered a fumble on a muffed punt late in the game deep in Ottawa territory.

Art Stevenson sealed the deal with a single out of the back of the Ottawa end zone in an 8-7 victory.