September 5, 2023

History of the Banjo Bowl

CFL fans during the Labour Day game between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Mosaic Stadium in Regina, SK. Sunday, September 4, 2016. (Photo: Johany Jutras)

It would be wrong to suggest the Banjo Bowl began with an innocent-enough comment.

Absolutely dead wrong.

Troy Westwood knew exactly what he was doing some 20 years ago now when, on the eve of the 2003 West Division Semi-Final between his Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Saskatchewan Roughriders, he referred to our neighbours to the west as ‘banjo-pickin’ inbreds.’

That kind of shot, understandably, had the good folks of Saskatchewan frothing at the mouth. But there was a playfulness behind Westwood’s comments, lost now without video evidence of the interview, and only fuelled further by his follow-up apology.

“I had referred to the people of Saskatchewan as a bunch of banjo-pickin’ inbreds,” said Westwood, with a straight face. “I was wrong to make such a statement, and I’d like to apologize.”

“The vast majority of the people in Saskatchewan have no idea how to play the banjo.”

And… Ka-BOOM! With that, the already nasty and fiery rivalry between the Bombers and Riders morphed into a raging inferno. That the Bombers lost that playoff game a few days later has now faded, but the concept of the Banjo Bowl – the idea of a signature game to match the significance of the Labour Day Classic and be played annually in Winnipeg – has only grown out of that original Westwood salvo.

The day after Westwood’s infamous comments David Asper approached then-Bombers president Lyle Bauer and the late Jerry Maslowsky, the club’s marketing director at the time, and the idea had officially been born.

It is THE event on the local football calendar. And in good times or in bad it has consistently been a sold-out, raucous event that gets the juices flowing for fans here in Manitoba and our friends in Saskatchewan.

The 19th edition of the Banjo Bowl goes Saturday, September 9th at IG Field, and no matter the respective records of the Bombers and Riders, should again be a dandy.

The Bombers hold an 11-7 advantage in the Banjo Bowl series between the two Prairie rivals.

Here’s a recap of the 18 previous incarnations of the event:


I. Sept. 12, 2004 – Bombers 27 Riders 24

Attendance: 27,160 (Canad Inns Stadium)

Hall of Famer Charles Roberts stars in the inaugural game, rushing for 159 yards and scoring twice – the first on a pass from Kevin Glenn, the second on a 20-yard run – as the Bombers complete a Labour-Day/Banjo Bowl sweep of the Riders. Jim Daley was at the controls then, as the Bombers had relieved Dave Ritchie of his duties in August. Milt Stegall picked up one of his 147 career TDs, this one on a one-yard fumble recovery.

II. Sept. 10, 2005 – Riders 19 Bombers 17

Attendance: 29,653* (Canad Inns Stadium)

The second installment of the Banjo Bowl saw the Bombers jump out to a 14-4 lead in the second quarter on a TD run by Charles Roberts and a Kevin Glenn-to-Chris Brazzell strike of 11 yards. But the Riders would then slam the door shut after that, as Marcus Crandell ran for a score and threw for another in a contest in which they would control the ball for almost five minutes more than the Bombers in completing a Labour Day/Banjo Bowl kill shot.

III. Sept. 10, 2006 – Bombers 27 Riders 23

Attendance: 30,026* (Canad Inns Stadium)

The Bombers end a four-game losing streak – and halted the Riders’ three-game win streak – as Kevin Glenn connected with Milt Stegall for a 13-yard TD to tie the game at 20-20, and then hit the legend again for a 46-yard strike that set up a Charles Roberts run early in the fourth for the decisive score. Westwood connected on four field goals and, to just build his popularity with the fan base further west, said ‘those Saskatchewan fans will have a long, lonely ride home on their combines.’

IV. Sept. 9, 2007 – Bombers 34 Riders 15

Attendance: 29,783* (Canad Inns Stadium)

The Bombers, playing in front of their fifth-straight sellout, rout the Riders behind three one-yard TD runs by Charles Roberts to improve to 6-3-1 and stay atop the CFL’s East Division. Stegall, again, plays a central role with his 141st career touchdown, while Westwood connected on two field goals. The Riders dropped to 7-3, but remained atop the West Division standings. It is the final regular season meeting between the two clubs before they meet one more time, with the Riders knocking off the Bombers to capture the 2007 Grey Cup.

V. Sept. 7, 2008 – Riders 34 Bombers 31

Attendance: 29,770* (Canad Inns Stadium)

The Riders stunned the Bombers with a 17-point fourth quarter comeback that wiped out a 31-14 deficit that dropped Winnipeg’s record to 2-8. Some familiar faces played critical roles for the Riders as Michael Bishop – acquired from Toronto in late August and who would suit up for the Bombers a year later – connected with a rookie named Weston Dressler for two touchdowns and a third to Vincent Marshall while throwing for 370 yards. The Bombers got two touchdowns from Terrence Edwards, while Fred Reid and Joe Smith – acquired just days earlier from B.C. for Charles Roberts – would score on one-yard runs.

VI. Sept. 13, 2009 – Riders 55 Bombers 10

Attendance: 29,533* (Canad Inns Stadium)

A low point for the Bombers in their 12-year Banjo Bowl history as the club surrendered over 50 points for the first time in six years and the Riders completed another Labour Day/Banjo Bowl sweep. The two clubs were actually tied at 7-7 after the first quarter, courtesy of TD runs by Fred Reid of the Bombers and Wes Cates of the Riders. And then things got very ugly for the home side. The Riders would generate 31 points off eight Winnipeg turnovers as Cates would run for three TDs and Darian Durant another while Jason Armstead would connect with Andy Fantuz on a trick play. Bomber QBs Michael Bishop and Bryan Randall combine to complete just 11 of 30 passes for 124 yards with zero TDs and four interceptions.

VII. Sept. 12, 2010 – Bombers 31 Riders 2

Attendance: 29,833* (Canad Inns Stadium)

Fred Reid, after missing two practices during the week with the flu, rushed for 148 yards and two touchdowns as the Bombers maul the Riders to improve to just 3-7 on the season. Winnipeg QB Steven Jyles, filling in for Buck Pierce after he suffered a dislocated elbow in the Labour Day Classic, completed 19 of 23 passes for 169 yards with a TD strike to Chris Davis, while back-up pivot Alex Brink also scored on a keeper.

VIII. Sept. 11, 2011 – Riders 45 Bombers 23

Attendance: 30,518* (Canad Inns Stadium)

The Bombers build a 10-0 lead in the first quarter on a Justin Palardy field goal and Fred Reid TD run, but then unravel as the Riders outscore the home side 45-13 the rest of the way. Darian Durant throws for four touchdowns – two to Chris Getzlaf, one to Weston Dressler and another Neal Hughes – and Chris McKenzie returned an interception for a TD as the Riders picked up their third win against seven losses. The Bombers, who would appear in the Grey Cup just a few months later, fell to 7-3 after falling a week earlier in the Labour Day game. Critical in the outcome was the Riders converting six Bomber turnovers into 28 points.

IX. Sept. 9, 2012 – Riders 25 Bombers 24

Attendance: 30,077* (Canad Inns Stadium)

The Bombers come out flying a week after getting crushed 52-0 in the Labour Day Classic, building a 10-3 first quarter lead in Tim Burke’s second game as head coach after the firing of Paul LaPolice.

But it was a decision by Burke late in the game that proved to be costly as he opted to have Mike Renaud punt for the corner rather than attempt a long Justin Palardy field goal in the final minute. Renaud’s punt carried into the end zone for a single and then-Riders QB Drew Willy drove the visitors into position for a 40-yard Sandro DeAngelis field goal with no time remaining for a 25-24 victory.

The Bombers lone TD came on an 82-yard punt return by Demond Washington, while Palardy connected on five field goals. Willy connected with Kory Sheets for a 33-yard strike, and the Riders running back would also plow in from two yards.

X. Sept. 8, 2013 – Bombers 25 Riders 13

Attendance: 33,500* (Investors Group Field)

The Bombers struggled mightily in 2013, going just 3-15 to finish last in the league. But one of the few highlights was the first Banjo Bowl ever held at Investors Group Field.

Will Ford returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown while quarterback Justin Goltz twice scored on three-yard runs to pace the Bombers, while Winnipeg’s defence recorded eight quarterback sacks in limiting Darian Durant to just 112 yards passing. The only item of note for Riders fans saw Geroy Simon move past Terry Vaughn into second place on the CFL’s all-time receptions list.

XI. Sept. 7, 2014 – Riders 30 Bombers 24

Attendance: 33,134* (Investors Group Field)

The Riders exit Winnipeg with the ‘W’, but without a healthy starting quarterback Darian Durant after he takes a shot from Bryant Turner, Jr. in the third quarter and injures his elbow. The Bombers got TDs from Nic Grigsby as well as Rory Kohlert and Aaron Kelly on strikes from Drew Willy.

Saskatchewan’s TDs came from Rod Williams on a blocked field goal, Anthony Allen and Weston Dressler on a punt return.

XII. Sept. 12, 2015 – Bombers 22 Riders 7

Attendance: 35,156* (Investors Group Field)

Matt Nichols makes his first start after being acquired in a trade with Edmonton and, after tossing an interception and fumbling twice in the first half, settles down to throw for 283 yards and a touchdown to Julian Feoli-Gudino in guiding the Bombers to victory.

Khalil Bass also scored on a 60-yard interception return as Winnipeg kept their playoffs hope alive by improving to 4-7 on the season.

XIII. Sept. 10, 2016 – Bombers 17 Saskatchewan 10

Attendance: 33,134* (Investors Group Field)

The Bombers win their sixth straight, and do so despite injuries in-game to Andrew Harris, Ryan Smith and Ian Wild. Matt Nichols threw for 247 yards – 135 to Weston Dressler alone – and rushed for two short touchdowns, but it was the defence and special teams that especially stood tall. Kevin Fogg stripped a Riders receiver of the ball inside the Bombers 20-yard line and Terrence Frederick snuffed out a fake field goal late in the game as the home side finished +3 in the turnover ratio.

XIV. Sept. 9, 2017 – Bombers 48 Riders 28

Attendance: 33,124* (Investors Group Field)

The Bombers avenge a Labour Day Classic loss with a 48-28 mauling a week later in the Banjo Bowl, improving to 8-3 with their sixth win in seven games. Matt Nichols threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns – two to Clarence Denmark, the third to Ryan Lankford – while Maurice Leggett scored on a 97-yard punt return AND a 54-yard interception return. Jovan Santos-Knox made his first start, registering four tackles and notching his first career interception.

XV. Sept. 8, 2018 – Riders 32 Bombers 27

Attendance: 33,134* (IG Field)

Winnipeg dropped its fourth straight game to fall to 5-7 with most of the wounds in the 15thedition of the Banjo Bowl self-inflicted. Matt Nichols and Chris Streveler combined to throw five interceptions – two of them returned for touchdowns by Willie Jefferson and Samuel Eguavoen – as the Riders translated the mistakes into 23 points off turnovers. Brett Lauther also connected on six field goals for the Riders, who did not find the end zone offensively.

The Bombers got a defensive touchdown of their own, as Anthony Gaitor intercepted a Zach Collaros pass and returned it 55 yards for a score. Daniel Petermann also scored for the Bombers on a pass from Streveler, who also scored along the ground.

XVI. Sept. 7, 2019 – Bombers 35 Riders 10

Attendance: 33,134* (IG Field)

The Bombers avenged a last-second loss to the Riders in the Labour Day Classic with a thorough beating less than a week later before another capacity crowd. Missing Matt Nichols, Andrew Harris, Nic Demski and Jackson Jeffcoat, the Bombers nonetheless built a 28-3 lead at halftime before cruising to victory.

Chris Streveler threw for two touchdowns — one to Johnny Augustine, the other to Daniel Petermann — and ran for two more in the win. The Bombers also got a punt-return score from Janarion Grant, forced three turnovers and dominated the line of scrimmage.

XVII. Sept. 11, 2021 – Bombers 33 Riders 9

Attendance: 33,234* (IG Field)

The Blue Bombers completed the Labour Day Classic/Banjo Bowl sweep with a dominant win at home in the back end of the doubleheader. Zach Collaros threw for 278 yards and two TDs — one to Kenny Lawler, the other to Darvin Adams — while Sean McGuire had three QB-sneak touchdowns.

Winnipeg’s ‘Dark Side’ defence was stifling, again, in shutting out Saskatchewan in the second half, registered four sacks and also forced three turnovers as the club improved to 5-1 in the pandemic-shortened CFL schedule.

XVIII. Sept. 10, 2022 – Bombers 54 Riders 20

Attendance: 33,234* (IG Field)

The Blue Bombers administered another impressive Banjo Bowl beatdown, thumping a Roughriders squad that entered the game severely hampered by a nasty bout of stomach flu. Winnipeg’s offence scored touchdowns on its first four possessions, and of its 10 possessions had seven TDs, two field goals and just one punt while the defence forced four turnovers.
The club was led by Collaros, who threw for 273 yards and four touchdowns, while Jefferson had three tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble as the team’s record improved to 12-1 with another Labour Day Classic/Banjo Bowl sweep.

*Indicates sell out