March 16, 2023

A look back at the last 4 Grey Cups in Winnipeg

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie announced that the 2025 Grey Cup will be played in Winnipeg during an event at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' stadium Tuesday, March 14, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

There have been frigid Sundays – and relatively balmy ones, too. There has been a splash of Hollywood, some last-minute dramatics and oh-so many memorable moments.

Winnipeg has hosted four Grey Cups in the 109 years of the championship history, with a fifth now confirmed to be coming in 2025.

Yours truly has been fortunate enough to cover the previous four championships for the two newspapers in this town and given there is still a buzz in the air surrounding this week’s official announcement of the 112th Grey Cup coming in a couple of years, this seemed as good a time as any to take a quick stroll down memory lane.

What follows is a brief recap of the four previous games held here in River City:

79th Grey Cup

Date: November 24, 1991, Winnipeg Stadium

Attendance: 51,985

Result: Toronto Argonauts 36 Calgary Stampeders 21

Halftime show: Luba; Salute to 1992 Winter Olympic Athletes

The story: Toronto rolled to a 13-5 regular season and was led by quarterback Matt Dunigan, running back Pinball Clemons and featured Notre Dame star receiver/returner Raghib ‘The Rocket’ Ismail – projected to be a top pick in the NFL Draft that spring before he signed with the Argos as a ‘marquee player’ – then exempt from the $3.8 million salary cap – for $18.2 million over four years.

Toronto was owned by a group that included Wayne Gretzky and the late, great John Candy, along with Bruce McNall, who also owned the Los Angeles Kings. All of them were in Winnipeg for a frigid Grey Cup Sunday that began with the temperature at -16.

Dunigan didn’t practice all week due to a shoulder injury – he did throw in secret in the team’s hotel ballroom – and had to have his injured wing shot up with pain killers so he could play.

The game’s iconic moment came in the fourth quarter and with the Argos clinging to a 22-21 lead, as Ismail took a kickoff return 87 yards for a TD – that moment featuring a frozen beer can tossed from the stands by a fan landing at his feet — followed by a Dunigan-to-Paul Masotti score.

Winnipeg answered every question about its ability to host a Grey Cup that year, throwing what was one of the most-successful championship weeks in the game’s history and setting a new standard for what the week and the events should look like.

The Blue Bombers that season: The Blue Bombers entered 1991 as the defending Grey Cup champs, having crushed Edmonton 50-11 in the 1990 championship. Winnipeg finished 9-9 in the East Division in ’91 and was then pummelled 42-3 by Toronto at the SkyDome in the Eastern Final. Ironically, after the 1991 season Dunigan became a free agent and was signed by the Blue Bombers before playing here three seasons.

86th Grey Cup

Date: November 22, 1998, Winnipeg Stadium

Attendance: 34,157

Result: Calgary Stampeders 26 Hamilton Tiger-Cats 24

Halftime show: Love Inc.

The story: The CFL was still struggling to emerge from the crater left behind by their bombed expansion into the U.S., as many had predicted the 1996 championship game in Hamilton could be the last in league history. Edmonton stepped up to host the ’97 championship and give the game life again, but Winnipeg was only officially awarded the Grey Cup about a year out and pricey end zone tickets – coupled with a horrible Blue Bombers team that season – led to almost 8,000 empty seats on game day. Fans still gobbled up the rest of the week’s festivities, with 75,000 lining the streets for a night-time Grey Cup parade.

The game delivered — as is almost always the case — as did the weather, with the temperature at kickoff a balmy 10C. Winnipegger Mark McLoughlin kicked a 35-yard field goal with no time remaining in Calgary’s win, with Stamps Jeff Garcia named the game’s MVP.

The Blue Bombers that season: The club was heading into Year 2 of the Jeff Reinebold regime, but any hope of a shot at a Grey Cup berth was gone before the calendar flipped to August. Winnipeg opened the season with 10 straight losses, Reinebold was fired in the fall and the club stumbled to a league-worst 3-15 season. Dave Ritchie would be named the club’s new coach for ’99 and tasked with cleaning up the mess. Three years later he had the Blue Bombers in the 2001 Grey Cup.

94th Grey Cup

Date: November 19, 2006, Canad Inns Stadium

Attendance: 44,786

Result: B.C. Lions 25 Montreal Alouettes 14

Halftime show: Nelly Furtado, featuring Saukrates

The story: Winnipeg threw another dandy party and the Lions – behind MVP Dave Dickenson – dominated the game in building a 19-3 halftime lead and stifling Anthony Calvillo and the Alouettes.

One of the game’s most-memorable sidebars featured Lions offensive lineman Kelly Bates breaking the Grey Cup during the team’s post-game celebration, with the cup portion at the top of the trophy coming off its base.

The Blue Bombers that season: The club opened with a 5-2 record under new head coach Doug Berry and then when 4-7 the rest of the way for a 9-9 record and third spot in the East Division. That did earn the Blue Bombers its first playoff berth since 2003, where the team fell 31-27 to Toronto in the Eastern Semi-final – giving up two touchdowns in the final eight minutes to blow a 27-17 lead.

103rd Grey Cup

Date: November 29, 2015, Investors Group Field

Attendance: 36,634

Result: Edmonton Eskimos 26 Ottawa RedBlacks 20

Halftime show: Fall Out Boy

The story: Investors Group Field hosted its first Grey Cup, not long after the building had opened in the summer of 2013. Some of the buzz that usually accompanies a home Grey Cup was lost with the Blue Bombers struggling in the second half of their season, but the game – and Winnipeg’s spiffy new stadium – shone brightly on the national stage.

Ottawa, one year removed from its return to the CFL and a 2-14 record, held a 19-18 lead after three quarters before Edmonton outscored them 8-1 in the final 15 minutes. QB Mike Reilly was the game’s MVP, as he thew for three TDs and ran for two more helping earn current Blue Bombers Willie Jefferson and Mike Miller their first Grey Cup wins.

The Blue Bombers that season: The Blue Bombers were 3-3 at the end of July in Mike O’Shea’s second season as the head coach, but then went just 2-10 to the finish line in a 5-13 campaign that saw them miss the playoffs.

We know what happened next: since 2016 the club has posted six consecutive double-digit win seasons, has captured two Grey Cups and played in a third while morphing into the league’s dominant franchise over that stretch.