February 5, 2021

Top 10 Exclusive | Tacklers

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' defensive back Jovon Johnson (2) pumps up the crowd near the end of the second half of the East Final CFL football action against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' in Winnipeg, Sunday, November 20, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Trevor Hagan

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 Tacklers

No doubt there is some bravery involved for any defender willing to throw his body into the fray in an attempt to make a tackle.

And in the history of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers they have had some marvellous contributors when it comes to the science – from big hitters, to technically sound perfectionists, to those who seemed to always be around the ball.

Some of them, especially those listed below, we’re a bit of all of the above.

Now as we list the Top 10 tacklers in Bombers history please remember that this list should have a big, fat asterisk beside it, as the tackle statistic wasn’t officially tracked by the CFL until the 1987 season. That leaves out some legendary defenders in this team’s history who would certainly be on the list if he was tracked further back.

That said, with that established, here we go…

1. Greg Battle, 1987-93, 1998 – 617 tackles

He was a tackling machine, eclipsing the 100-tackle mark in three straight seasons with the Bombers (1989-91), including a club record 124-tackle campaign in 1989.

He was twice named the CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player – in 1990 and 1991 – and finished his career with 766 career tackles including stints with Las Vegas, Ottawa, Memphis and Saskatchewan.

Battle was inducted into the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

2. Darryl Sampson, 1986-95 – 460 tackles

Sampson was a ratio breaker in the sense that he primarily played the defensive halfback spot, allowing the Bombers to often start two Canadians in the secondary (including at safety).

A gifted pass cover man, he was also an adept run stopper and was very consistent in his 10 years with the Bombers.

He was inducted into the WFC Hall of Fame in 2004.

3. Doug Brown, 2001-11 – 429 tackles

Brown didn’t just take up space and would-be blockers in the middle of the line of scrimmage, he dominated from there. His 429 tackles speaks of his longevity, but also just how busy he was in the trenches. Worth noting: he also ranks third on the club’s all-time quarterback-sack list behind only Tyrone Jones and Tony Norman.

Brown is a member of both the WFC Hall of Fame (2012) and CFHOF (2015).

4. Paul Randolph, 1989-95 – 408 tackles

Randolph is sometimes overlooked when the defensive greats of his era are mentioned, but he was a big-time thumper who rarely whiffed when a ball carrier was in his sights.

He was named the Bombers Most Outstanding Rookie in 1989 and was inducted into the team’s hall of fame in 2002.

5. James West, 1985-92 – 400 tackles

‘Wild’ West spoke loudly and carried a big hit. One of the mainstays of the Bombers dominant defence of the mid-to-late 80s/early 90s, West was a flamboyant and popular star among the fan base and because he got it done regularly on the field – often with some flair.

Named to the WFC (1997) and CFHOF (2015).

6. Ryland Wickman, 2000-05 – 355 tackles

Wickman was the biggest linebacker on the field – he stood 5-10 and weighed 225 – but he was a ferocious hitter who just loved to wallop people. His best tackling season statistically was 2000, when he finished with 89 tackles.

7. Barrin Simpson, 2006-09 – 352 tackles

The ‘Minister of Defence’ was a gifted sideline-to-sideline middle linebacker who has the third-highest single-season tackle total in Bombers history with 112 (behind Battle, who has 124, and 114-tackle seasons). He led the CFL in tackles in 2006 with 110 and finished second in 2007 with his 112 total. Simpson was the Bombers Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2006 and finished as the runner-up to B.C.’s Brent Johnson.

8. Maurice Kelly, 1998-99; 2003-04 – 343 tackles

Kelly was one of Jeff Reinebold’s prize free-agent recruits when he first became head coach of the club. And while the team was brutal in his first stint with the club, Kelly was among the shining lights. He was named the team’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player and Most Outstanding Player in 1999.

9. Bobby Evans, 1990-94 – 313 tackles

The second defensive back on this list, after Sampson. Evans was another quiet assassin on the football field. He was a division all-star in 2003 and 2004, had 21 interceptions in 98 games as a Bomber and could cover the league’s best interior receivers while also bringing some physicality to the run defence.

10. Jovon Johnson, 2008-12 – 308 tackles

Johnson appeared in 186 CFL games with Saskatchewan, Ottawa, Montreal and Winnipeg, and had his best seasons in Bombers colours. He became the first DB in CFL history to win the league’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player Award in 2011 – he was also the Bombers Most Outstanding Player and Most Outstanding Defensive Player that season.