February 14, 2024

WFC loses another legend, Gerry James

Gerry James, the two-sport star who suited up for both the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Toronto Maple Leafs during his exceptional athletic career, has passed away at the age of 89.

A Blue Bombers legend who played with the team from 1952-63 and was part of four Grey Cup championship teams, his death came on the same day as the passing of another franchise icon and a former teammate, Kenny Ploen.

“It’s been a difficult couple of days for the Blue Bombers with the losses of Ken Ploen and Gerry James – two iconic figures in this franchise’s long and storied history,” said Winnipeg Football Club President & CEO Wade Miller in a statement. “Gerry James was a two-sport star during his playing days and his skill, his grit and his toughness were trademarks of those legendary Bud Grant-coached teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The WFC would like to extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

James came from Winnipeg football royalty. He was born in Regina as the son of Eddie ‘Dynamite’ James, who had played for the ‘Pegs/Blue Bombers from 1934-38 and thus earned the nickname ‘Kid Dynamite’ for his exploits on the football field.

A product of Kelvin High School, Gerry James first pulled on a Blue Bombers jersey at the tender age of 17 in ’52 and in 1954 was the recipient of the Canadian Football League’s first Most Outstanding Canadian Player award, an honour he would capture again in 1957.

“I got invited to Bombers training camp and they offered me $50 a week to go to practice and I thought, ‘Boy, what a deal this is.’ I would have paid them $50 a week to go practice with my idols, especially Tom Casey,” James told when he was added to the WFC Ring of Honour in 2016.”

“I learned by watching the guy ahead of me in practice running the play. So, if we ran a play three times, I’d be the third guy running the play and do exactly what the guy before me did because I didn’t know what all these things meant. I didn’t know the terminology in (head coach) George Trafton’s system. If the guy in front of me had run forward, tripped, and fallen down I would have done the exact same thing.”

After helping the Toronto Marlboros win the 1955 Memorial Cup, James made his National Hockey League debut with the Maple Leafs that same spring and played on the club’s top line with Ted Kennedy and Sid Smith in place of an injured Eric Nesterenko.

“My goal growing up was to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers,” James recalled. “I used to listen to all the football and hockey broadcasts and so when it happened, I was in fantasy land.

“I can remember standing in the Montreal Forum for my first game after being called up from junior and thought, ‘I made it to the NHL. I don’t care what they do after this, I’ve played a game in the NHL.”

James would play 149 NHL games and is the only player to suit up for both the Grey Cup and the Stanley Cup in the same season.

A running back and kicker, James scored 19 touchdowns in ‘57, a club record that stood until 2002 when Milt Stegall established a Canadian Football League mark with 23 scores. His 18 rushing touchdowns in ’57 stood as a league record until Mike Pringle scored 19 times along the ground in 2000. His 63 career touchdowns ranks fourth in Blue Bombers history behind Stegall (147), Charles Roberts (79) and Leo Lewis (75).

After his playing days James turned to coaching hockey, working the bench in Switzerland before coaching Yorkton, Melville and Estevan in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, and the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League. James was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1981, the Blue Bomber Hall of Fame in 1984 and the club’s Ring of Honour in 2016.

He was the father of five children and one son, Kelly – Kelly Charles James – who was called ‘K.C.’ after Tom Casey, his idol and teammate. James returned to Winnipeg in 2016 for the Ring of Honour ceremonies and was touched by his induction.

“It’s a great honour in the fact that I’ve been away from the game for so long,” he said. “To be thought of for this new Ring of Honour so early in its inception is just a wonderful feeling, knowing that people feel I made some sort of a small impact on the football club.

“I’ve been reflecting in the last week or so of the teammates I played with and my mentor, Tom Casey, and it makes me happy for all of them, too.”

Rest in Peace Edwin Fitzgerald (Gerry) James – October 22, 1934-February 13, 2024.