September 15, 2022

Dave Ritchie inducted into Canadian Football Hall of Fame

Blue Bombers head coach Dave Ritchie (l) and wide receiver Robert Gordon horse around during the Bombers' media lunch 21May.

It took roughly one nanosecond to hear his trademark chuckle/snort. And a millisecond later Dave Ritchie was offering up one of his legendary colloquialisms which helped make him such a popular figure in this town, first as an assistant coach and then the head knock of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at the start of this millennium.

The intention here was to have a conversation with Ritchie – still sounding as robust as ever at 84 – about his formal induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame this weekend, including being saluted during halftime of Saturday’s Hall of Fame Game in Hamilton featuring the Tiger-Cats and Blue Bombers.

Of course, most chats with Ritchie often tend at some point or another to go completely off the rails. And so, after the formalities that come with touching base again were out of the way, he immediately wanted to talk about the current Blue Bombers squad – and especially the fellow University of Cincinnati Bearcats alum, Zach Collaros.

“That’s a great team you guys have got to watch, it really is,” began Ritchie in a chat with “I’ll tell you what, the only thing they need to do now is get a few more Bearcats on that team. They need more Cincinnata (that’s how he always pronounced ‘Cincinnati’) Bearcats.”

“Here’s the thing… I kept looking at (Collaros) when he was in college, and he reminded me so much of Danny Mac (McManus, now the Blue Bombers assistant GM). I thought, ‘Geez oh Pete… this kid can play.’ I’ll tell you another thing: Mike (O’Shea) has done a great job there. Unbelievable. UN-believable. It’s gotta be fun there right now.”

There were fun days when Ritchie was at the helm of the Blue Bombers, too. He was part of Mike Riley’s coaching staff with the 1990 Grey Cup squad and then after leading the B.C. Lions to a championship in 1994, returned to Winnipeg in 1999 to take over a team that had gone 7-29 over the previous two seasons. By 2001 the club was 14-4 and in a Grey Cup game – ultimately losing to a Calgary Stampeders squad led by his dear friend Wally Buono.

Ritchie left the Blue Bombers third on the club’s all-time wins list behind Bud Grant and Cal Murphy – since surpassed by O’Shea – and finished his CFL coaching days seventh on the league’s all-time wins list at 108. It was Buono who called him this past winter with the news he was part of the 2022 CFHOF induction class.

“I appreciate whoever is on the committee taking the time to look at what we’ve done,” Ritchie said. “When Wally called me, he said, ‘I’ve got some good news and I’ve got some bad news.’ I said, ‘I don’t know what this is about, but give me the bad news first.’ We usually go to Arizona to spend a few weeks with them, and he said, ‘the bad news is you’re going to have to get on an aeroplane.’ I told him, ‘I’m not getting on an aeroplane because my last trip to Arizona was no fun. What’s the good news?’

“And then he said, ‘The good news is you just got elected to the hall of fame.’ All I could say was, ‘Thank you Wally and thank the committee, too.’

“God’s been good to me,” Ritchie added. “I feel good. My age is catching up a little bit, but I’m still moving. And along the way I’ve met a lot of nice guys, like you guys. Even though you thought I was nuts. But that’s alright.”

Ritchie will have his wife Sharon at his side in Hamilton, along with one of his daughters and her family, while work commitments will mean his other daughter and son will not be able to attend. Long-time assistant coach Gene Gaines will be there, too, along with a numerous players who went to battle for him.

“I had some great players over the years,” Ritchie said. “Players make coaches, coaches don’t make players. If a coach thinks it’s ‘I say-all say’ then he’s as nutty as a fruitcake. You know what? I came up (to the CFL) in 1983 and Wally and I coached Montreal’s defence. Wally went on to greatness and I went on to try and find my way in the wilderness. There you go… that’s a good line for you.”

The 2022 Canadian Football League induction class also includes quarterback Ricky Ray, linebacker Chip Cox, kicker Paul McCallum, defensive back/quarterback Dick Thornton, fullback Tim Tindale, GM Roy Shivers and Media Wing inductees Glen Suitor and Ed Willes.

Thornton – nicknamed ‘Tricky Dick’ – played 12 seasons in the CFL, including from 1961-66 with the Blue Bombers. He was a CFL All-Star twice during his days with the Blue Bombers, 1963 and 1965 and was inducted into the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame in 1988.

Thornton’s WFC Hall of Fame bio.