Every Thursday, we will feature our own #BombersTBT with a blast from the past photo and caption.
Come back and visit every Thursday for more great throwbacks!
June 22, 2017 – Vernon Pahl was an important part of two championship teams with the Blue Bombers in the 1980s as a versatile linebacker who was converted to fullback. Drafted in 1980 in the third round, 21st overall, out of the University of Prince Edward Island, Pahl was part of the 1984 Grey Cup team that ended a 22-year drought and also the 1988 squad that upset the B.C. Lions in the championship.
Pahl also represented the football club off the field, and was named the inaugural winner of the Ed Kotowich Good Guy Award, celebrating a player ‘who shows excellence in football ability, team camaraderie, and effort in the community.”
June 15, 2017 – There was Tyrone Jones and James West, Rod Hill, Less Browne and Greg Battle. Mike Gray and Stan Mikawos and Ken Hailey, too. Yes, the soft-spoken Darryl Sampson could often be over-looked during his days with the Bombers from 1986-95, especially when operating in the shadows of some of the franchise’s all-time defensive legends who often talked the talk and walk the walk.
A second-round draft pick of the Bombers in 1986, Sampson morphed into an integral starter for the club, playing a defensive halfback position normally reserved for Americans. He played 10 years for the Bombers, winning Grey Cups in 1988 and 1990, is third on the team’s all-time tackles list behind only Greg Battle and Doug Brown and was inducted into the club’s hall of fame in 2004.
Sampson turned to coaching following his retirement and worked at his alma mater, York University, and then as an assistant with the Bombers in 2001 and 2002.
June 8, 2017 — Buddy Tinsley came north to Canada after starring at Baylor and a year with the Los Angeles Dons of the All-American Football Conference. He had offers from the Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles and other NFL teams, but opted to stay in Winnipeg and made it his home until he passed away in 2011.
He was dominant on both sides of the ball, five times an all-star on the offensive line and twice at defensive tackle and was a team captain in 10 of his 11 years with the Bombers. Many remember him for the story, now folklore, of the 1950 Grey Cup – the ‘Mud Bowl’ – when it was said that an official saved Tinsley from drowning when he was motionless and face down in the mud and water – a tale he insisted was exaggerated.
This photo is courtesy his family and the inscription on the back indicates it was taken in 1958 at Winnipeg Stadium.
June 1, 2017 — Bob Swift began his Canadian Football League career as a fullback with the B.C. Lions, rushing for 1,054 yards as a rookie. But, in one of the most-remarkable position conversions in league history, he was switched to centre in 1967 by the Toronto Argonauts before being traded to the Bombers in 1971 for Paul Desjardins.
Swift continued his transformation in blue and gold, being named the CFL’s all-star centre in 1971, 1972 and 1974 en route to be added to the Winnipeg Football Club’s Hall of Fame in 1991. He was twice named the Bombers Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman (1974, 1977) and was the team’s Most Outstanding Canadian Player twice (1972, 1975).
May 25, 2017 — The first time Milt Stegall came to Winnipeg it was supposed to be a pit stop along the road back to the NFL.
He stayed, as we all know now, and he not only found a football home here with the Blue Bombers, he became one of the most-dominant players in the history of the Canadian Football League.
Stegall played 14 years in Winnipeg and when he retired in 2007 he was the CFL’s all-time touchdown leader with 147 while establishing new records for TDs in a season (23, set in 2002) and receiving yards – a mark since broken by one-time teammate Geroy Simon.
His skill set was impressive, but what made Stegall not just good, but legendary, was his work ethic. No one worked harder at his craft – both on the field and in the weight room – than Stegall.
Stegall, now an analyst on CFL on TSN telecasts, was also one of the most-quotable players in the league during his playing days. He vowed to always be ‘think in the waist and cute in the face’ and often preached about his six guarantees in life – death, taxes, trouble, Milt Stegall being on time, Milt being pretty and Milt being in great shape.
This marks the one-year anniversary of Bombers Throwback Thursday and we can think of no one better to salute on the occasion than Stegall.
May 18, 2017 — He could fly. Man, could Albert Johnson III fly. Nicknamed ‘Flight 87’ in a fan poll, Johnson III was one of the fastes
t and most-dynamic players ever to pull on a Bombers uniform.
He played three games with Saskatchewan in 1999, but still qualified as a rookie when he joined the Bombers a year later. And that first season in Winnipeg was superb, as he was named both the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie and Most Outstanding Special Teams Player. Johnson III led the league in combined yards in 2000 with 3,241, including 1,506 yards in kickoff returns, 664 in punt returns, 778 receiving and 16 rushing. His 447 combined yards in a July game of 2000 in Edmonton – 321 yards on kick returns, 153 receiving – remains a CFL record.
Johnson III left after that season for the NFL, spending 2001-02 with the Miami Dolphins, 2003 with the New York Jets and Houston Texans and 2004 with the Cologne Centurions of NFL Europe. He returned to the Bombers in 2006 and led the team in punt and kickoff return yardage in both ’06 and ’07.
May 11, 2017 – The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have had some great quarterbacks in their history, from Jack Jacobs to Ken Ploen, to Dieter Brock and Khari Jones. But it could be argued nobody commanded a huddle – or a dressing room – like Matt Dunigan.
Dunigan arrived in 1992 after having already played for Edmonton, B.C. and leading Toronto to a Grey Cup in Winnipeg in 1991.
He brought a certain swagger to everything he did, and although he battled injuries during his three years in Winnipeg, filled the skies with long bombs and howitzer-shots over the middle. He did more than pass for 713 yards in one game against Edmonton in 1994, he helped create a buzz about the Bombers again after years of the team being dominated by its defences.
Unfortunately, while Dunigan and Danny McManus led the club to a Grey Cup appearance in 1992, they fell short against Doug Flutie and the Calgary Stampeders. A year later, Dunigan was on crutches as the Bombers fell in the 1993 championship to Edmonton. And the 1994 Bombers – as good a squad as has ever been fielded in these parts – fell short in the 1994 divisional final when they fell to the all-American roster of the Baltimore Stallions.
Dunigan, now an analyst on TSN, is in both the Canadian Football and Winnipeg Football Halls of Fame.
May 4, 2017 – Elfrid Payton was one of the most gregarious characters in Winnipeg Blue Bombers history. He could make anyone around him laugh, and often made opposition quarterbacks cry.
Payton did three tours with the Bombers, first joining the club in 1991 after starring at Grambling University in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC, which was also Payton’s nickname). He made an immediate impact, too, as he was named the team’s Most Outstanding Rookie in ’91. He would set a club record that still stands for quarterback sacks in 1993 with 22, and then left the club following that season to be closer to home by signing with the Shreveport Pirates. Payton won a Grey Cup in 1995 with the Baltimore Stallions, spent four seasons with the Montreal Alouettes and then rejoined Winnipeg in 2000.
Payton had a couple of stints with Toronto and Edmonton before finishing up his career where it started, with the Bombers, in 2004.
A seven-time CFL All-Star and the league’s top defensive player in 2002 Payton was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
April 27, 2017 – Dick Thornton – nicknamed ‘Tricky Dick’ – never did anything half way and that meant he was not only one of the best players on the football field, but one of the most-colourful off it.
Thornton began his CFL career with the Bombers in 1961, spent seven years with the Toronto Argonauts and finished with the Memphis Southmen of the World Football League. And everywhere he went he grabbed attention and made headlines.
He wore his hair long and sported an ear ring and Fu Manchu moustache when most of his teammates were buttoned-down. And during his days in Winnipeg – where he became known as an outstanding defensive back – he decided he wanted to play quarterback and hired a kid to run through the bleachers with a sign that read ‘Thornton for Quarterback). Bud Grant didn’t budge, FYI.
April 20, 2017 – Sometimes it takes awhile for a guy to truly find a football home. Many don’t get the opportunity, cut adrift before putting down roots. Others get second chances and make them count. Bill Frank fits into the latter category.
He began his pro career with the B.C. Lions in 1962 but ran into some trouble in 1964 and was cut adrift – just months before the Leos would capture their first Grey Cup title. Drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, Frank played four games in the NFL in 1965 and then returned to the CFL with the Toronto Argonauts and earned his first spot on the league all-star team in 1967. Frank made his way to Winnipeg in 1969 and for the next eight years was a mainstay on the Bombers offensive line, winning CFL All-Star honours in 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1973; being named the club’s Most Outstanding Player in 1970; and the team’s top lineman in 1970, 1971 and 1973. In 2001 he was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
April 13, 2017 – Leo Ezerins began his Canadian Football League career with his hometown Blue Bombers after being a territorial pick of the club in the 1978 draft.
A business graduate from Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington – where he was coached by future CFL icons Hugh Campbell and Mike Riley – Ezerins first lined up as a tight end for the Bombers, pulling in 23 passes for 252 yards as a rookie.
He was moved to linebacker in 1979 and settled in at that position while carving out a solid career for both the Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Ezerins played for the Bombers from 1978-82 and was then traded to the Ticats before the start of the 1983 season for defensive back David Shaw.
An all-star in 1986, Ezerins played a key role in the Ticats Grey-Cup team that year and remains sixth all-time among CFL linebackers in career interceptions.
This week it was announced Ezerins has been selected as a member of the 2017 Gridiron Greats Hall of Game Class and it’s an excellent choice for what he did during his playing days and after his retirement.
Ezierins founded the CFL Alumni Association in 2008 and currently serves as the executive director. The CFLAA has created the CFL Alumni Support Fund under his watch to help ‘former players experiencing financial limitations due to medical and life challenges.’ The program was modelled after Mike Ditka’s Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund.
Ezerins is also on the advisor board of the Canadian Concussion Centre and the clinical research team for the Canadian Sports Concussion Research Project.
Ezerins joins a solid group of CFL inductees that includes Angelo Mosca, Hugh Campbell, George Reed, Ray Elgaard and two other former Bombers – Matt Dunigan and Danny McManus, who joined the Gridiron Greats last spring.
April 6 – Tom Clements arrived in Winnipeg in 1983 as part of one of the biggest trades in club history, coming aboard after being dealt for a disgruntled Dieter Brock.
Less than a year later, Clements – the former Notre Dame starter and two-sport star from Pittsburgh – was leading the Bombers to the 1984 Grey Cup, breaking a 22-season championship drought.
Clements was already an established star in the CFL and in football when he pulled on Bomber colours in ’83 at the age of 30. He had led the Fighting Irish to a national title in 1973, was the CFL’s top rookie in 1975 as a member of the Ottawa Rough Riders and led the Riders to the 1976 Grey Cup with his memorable game-winning pass to Tony Gabriel.
A five-time CFL All-Star, Clements didn’t have the rocket arm of Brock, but moved around the pocket effectively and dissected defences with the precision of a surgeon. He was a CFL All-Star twice as a Bomber – in 1984 and 1987 – and in ’87 was named the league’s Most Outstanding Player. He retired after that season to become a lawyer and then returned to football as a coach, first with Notre Dame and then in the NFL with New Orleans, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Green Bay.
March 23, 2017 – Many often get lost in the discussion about the great Winnipeg Blue Bomber defensive pieces of the 1980s as the chatter focusses on Tyrone Jones, James West, Greg Battle, Bennie Thompson, Rod Hill, Mike Gray, Stan Mikawos and Aaron Brown.
A prime example is linebacker Darrell Patterson, who came to Winnipeg in 1984 after being drafted by the New York Giants and following a stint with the Buffalo Bills. He played just three games that year, before becoming a fixture in 1985. And in 1986 he had his best of is seven years in the Canadian Football League with 102 total tackles, an interception and six sacks en route to being named the Bombers Most Outstanding Defensive Player. Patterson spent his offseasons in Winnipeg, playing on the Bombers hockey and basketball teams, before being traded in 1988 to the Ottawa Rough Riders for quarterback Joe Paopao.
Patterson has stayed in football since his last CFL season in 1990 and has spent the last 10 years on the coaching staff of the Rice Owls. Prior to that he has served on staffs at Baylor, Arkansas State, Kentucky, Temple, Akron, Stanford, Southern Methodist, Texas Christian as well as stints with B.C. and Ottawa.
March 16, 2017 – Canadian Football League teams don’t hold free-agent camps in the United States just to get out of the cold up north and break up the monotony of the offseason. There can be gold at these gatherings as players often overlooked by scouting departments first flash their skills to get in invitation to training camp and then develop into starters for the big club.
Blaise Bryant is an example of a gem that can be uncovered at one of these camps. The Bombers held a mini-camp in Yuma, Arizona in 1993 and Bryant — a former fifth-round draft pick of the New York Jets in 1991 who had been released in ’92 — was one of the attendees. At 6-0 and 205 pounds, Bryant had both the speed and size to intrigue the Bomber brass. Bryant appeared in eight games in 1993, serving primarily as the back-up to Michael Richardson.
A year later, with Richardson now in Ottawa, Bryant took over the starting tailback chores and put up some gaudy numbers with 1,289 yards and 10 touchdowns along the ground and 45 receptions for 541 yards and another score through the air. His most-memorable game as a Bomber came in Hamilton on September 17, 1994 when he set a club record with 249 yards rushing in a 38-21 win over the Tiger-Cats. Bryant’s totals broke the mark set previously by Willard Reaves – 221 yards in a game against Ottawa – and was later smashed by Fred Reid when he rushed for 260 yards in a win over the B.C. Lions in August of 2009.
March 9, 2017 – Nobody could blanket receivers like Juran Bolden who will long be remembered as one of the best cover defensive backs in Blue Bomber history.
Bolden did three tours with the Bombers, beginning in 1995 after the Mississippi Delta College product stumbled upon a free-agent camp the team was having on his home field. Bolden had obvious skills, but had academic problems in high school and had to go the junior college route.
The Bombers instantly fell in love with his raw talent and signed him on the spot, flying him up to Winnipeg for training camp before his 20th birthday – and a year away from him being eligible for the NFL draft.
“Somehow, some way, God just made it easy for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to come to the Mississippi Delta,” Bolden told reporters during Grey Cup week in 2007. “The next thing you know, I signed a contract with them.”
Bolden played nine games for the Bombers in ’95 and was then a fourth-round draft pick of the Atlanta Falcons in ’96. At 6-3, 210 pounds and with the speed and grace of a gazelle, Bolden spent two years with the Falcons, and then a year with the Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs before returning to the Bombers in 2000. He was part of the franchise’s turnaround at the start of the new millennium and was arguably the CFL’s best defensive player in 2001 – Hamilton’s Joe Montford won the award – before turning that into another stretch in the NFL with Atlanta in 2002-03, then the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He promised to finish his career with the Bombers and did just that, playing the 2007 season but missing the last three regular-season games and the playoffs with an injury.
March 2, 2017 – The Bombers were undergoing a massive makeover in 1997 – a new coach in Jeff Reinebold, who had replaced Cal Murphy, and a completely remade roster that saw a bunch of veterans from a 9-9 team in 1996 jettisoned.
Acquired during training camp of 1997 for a pair of draft picks (including a first rounder), Chris Vargas opened the season as the Bombers starting QB, was replaced by Kevin McDougal for a stretch before finishing up the season as the starter. He threw for 2,618 yards and 15 TDs against 20 interceptions in 12 starts that year and, on a bad team that finished just 4-14, that was enough to lead the club that season.
Nicknamed ‘Magic’ during his college days at the University of Nevada-Reno, Vargas first signed in the CFL with the Edmonton Eskimos before being traded to B.C. He played just five games for the Bombers in 1998 before being released.
February 23, 2017 – Willard Reaves was hardly a household name when Bombers GM Paul Robson pulled the trigger on a trade with Edmonton to bring him to Winnipeg. But by the end of his days with the club, he was regarded as one of the toughest and most prolific running backs in the team’s storied history.
Reaves rushed for 898 yards and nine TDs in his first year and was a finalist for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie Award. That was just the start. Working behind his mammoth and talented offensive line – Reaves dubbed them his ‘White Horses’ – he would lead the CFL in rushing in 1984 with 1,733 yards and 18 touchdowns, both team records at the time, en route to being named the league’s Most Outstanding Player and helping the club to a Grey Cup victory.
Reaves cranked out 1,323 yards in 1985 and 1,471 in 1987, leading the league both years (injuries limited him to six games in ’86). After the ’87 season, he headed south to the NFL and had stints with both Miami and Washington.
Two of Reaves sons are professional athletes: Ryan is a forward with the St. Louis Blues and Jordan, who played college basketball at Brandon, is now a defensive end with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
February 16, 2017 — Chuck Ealey was a winner in high school and in university, finishing eighth in voting for the 1971 Heisman Trophy while at the University of Toledo. But he wanted to play quarterback and, when he went undrafted in the NFL, turned his attention to the Canadian Football League. He signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and, while being named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie, also led the Tabbies to a Grey-Cup championship. In 1974 his numbers dropped and the Ticats shipped him to the Bombers for Don Jonas.
Ealey’s days in Winnipeg weren’t that long – he finished the 1974 season and started the 1975 campaign with the Bombers – because of a strong-armed kid from Alabama who was pegged as the team’s new starter: Dieter Brock. Traded to Toronto, his career was cut short after he suffered a collapsed lung in 1978.
During Black History Month it’s worth noting that Ealey was the first African-American quarterback to start for the Bombers.
February 9, 2017 — He arrived here in 2004 and, within days, had made fans of thousands. Tom Canada played football with pure joy, a ‘this-could-be-my-last-game’ enthusiasm that rubbed off on teammates. And he lived life with a ‘Pura Vida’ – pure life – approach.
He was a California dude, a white-water rafting guide but he could also get after the quarterback from his defensive end position. He was the Bombers top rookie in 2004 and a division all-Star and twice led the team in sacks. These days when Canada isn’t on a beach or on the water, he’s also teaching crossfit in Idaho.
February 2, 2017 – It was 17 years ago this month that the Bombers pulled off one of the biggest trades in franchise history. Khari Jones was buried on the B.C. Lions depth chart, listed as No. 3, when the Bombers shipped Chris Perez west for a quarterback few had heard about. But by the middle of the 2000 season, Jones had stolen the starting QB chores from Kerwin Bell and helped lead the team to the division final that was the start of a franchise turnaround.
A year later, Jones threw for 4,545 yards and 30 TDs en route to being named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player and then in 2002 obliterated Bomber passing records by throwing for 5,334 yards and 46 TDs – half of them to Milt Stegall. The club struggled to open the 2004 season and Jones, battling a shoulder injury, was traded to Calgary and then finished his career with stops in Hamilton and Edmonton before retiring as a Bomber.
Now the offensive coordinator of the Lions, Jones is second on the club’s all-time passing yardage and touchdown passes list – behind only Dieter Brock – with 20,175 yards and 139 scores.
January 26, 2017 – Michael Richardson arrived in Winnipeg in 1992, seemingly as insurance for Robert Mimbs, the two-time reigning CFL rushing champion. By the end of the year it was Richardson who not only led the club in rushing with 1,153 yards, but was named the Canadian Football League’s Most Outstanding Rookie.
A native of Natchez, Louisiana who played his college ball at Louisiana Tech before a tryout with the New York Giants, Richardson would lead the Bombers in rushing in 1992, 1993 and 1996. He’s also the answer to an interesting trivia question, as the last man to lead the CFL in rushing with less than 1,000 yards – finishing with 925 in 1993.
He left for the Ottawa Rough Riders in free agency in 1994 and returned to the Bombers in 1996 and still lives in Winnipeg.
January 19, 2017 – The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have had some absolutely astonishing running backs in their history, from Tom Casey to Gerry James, Leo Lewis to Dave Raimey, Jim Washington to Williard Reaves, from Michael Richardson to Charles Roberts to Fred Reid to Andrew Harris of the present day.
And for two years in the early 1990’s, Robert Mimbs regularly chewed up and spit out opposition defences with two of the most prolific seasons for a Bomber ball carrier.
Mimbs rushed for 1,341 yards in 1990, and his workhorse season – the last time the Bombers won a championship – also included 71 receptions for 538 yards. A year later Mimbs would rush for 1,769 yards, breaking the club record of 1,733 yards in 1984 by Reaves. He was the runner-up that season to the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award to Doug Flutie, who was winning his first of six league honours. Mimbs was released seven games into the 1992 seasons, saw some spot duty with the Lions and – after sitting out 1994 – returned to the league with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. That year he led the league for the third time in his career with 1,403 yards and was a runner-up, again, to Flutie for the Most Outstanding Player Award.
January 12, 2017 – Perry Tuttle’s plan, like so many others before him, was simple: come north to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Canadian Football League to find his game again.
He did, almost instantly, finishing the 1986 and 1987 seasons with over 1,300 yards and eight touchdowns and flashing the kind of talent that made him a first-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills in 1982. And as Tuttle said earlier this week in an interview with bluebombers.com, the phone started ringing off the hook immediately. But he chose to stay and Tuttle insists he was better for it. So, too, were the Bombers, who would win two championships during Tuttle’s years.
Tuttle has been busy since hanging up the cleats after the 1991 season as a Bomber. He started the Perry Tuttle Company, a sports marketing firm, is a public speaker and author of four books and is also the team chaplain of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets. Most of all, he’s the proud father of six, including Kanyon Tuttle, a redshirt freshman on Clemson’s football team that won a national championship with a win over Alabama earlier this week – just as Tuttle was back in 1981 when the Tigers won their first title.
January 5, 2017 – Chris Perez was already an accomplished CFL tackle by the time he signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1997, beginning his three-down career with the Memphis Mad Dogs in 1995 and then being named to the CFL All-Star Team in 1996 as a member of the Toronto Argonauts.
The Bombers were rebuilding in 1997 under-then new head coach Jeff Reinebold and opted to trade their first and third-round picks in the 1998 CFL Draft to land Perez (the first rounder was used by the Argos to select kicker David Miller-Johnson). He would be one of the few shining lights during a dark period – along with Milt Stegall – and was named a division all-star in 1998. Early in the offseason of the 2000 season he was traded to the B.C. Lions for an unknown QB at the time and a fourth-round draft choice. That unknown QB? Khari Jones, who would be front and centre in the club’s turnaround over the next few years.
Perez was a fifth-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins in 1992 and had stints with the Patriots, Cardinals and Packers, along with the Barcelona Dragons, before finding a home in the CFL. He was a CFL All-Star with the Lions in 2000 before finishing his career in 2001 with the XFL’s Chicago Enforcers.
December 29, 2016 – Football is a violent, vicious sport. And Joe Poplawski was tough enough to be able to handle the nastiness that came with running a pass route through the middle of a defence. But in his nine years as a member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, ‘Joe Pop’ was able to bring a great deal of athleticism – almost grace – to the slotback/wide receiver position.
A product of the University of Alberta, Poplawski was a territorial exemption pick of the Edmonton Eskimos in 1978 but had his rights traded to Winnipeg in a deal for Tom Scott. Scott would go on to be a part of the Eskimos dynasty of that era, but Poplawski’s contributions to the Bombers were massive.
He was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie in 1978, was a CFL All-Star five times, and twice won the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian Player Award. And when he retired, he was 20th on the CFL’s all-time receiving yardage list (He still ranks third on the Bombers all-time list behind only Milt Stegall and James Murphy).
Poplawski is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame, the University of Alberta Sports Hall of Fame and the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
December 22, 2016 – Somebody nicknamed him ‘Big Bird’ from the moment Doug Brown first walked into the Winnipeg Blue Bombers clubhouse… and with good reason. At 6-8 and pushing 300 pounds, Brown had an ability to block out the sun.
But Brown was more than just a big lineman who took up space at the line of scrimmage. He was one of the greatest defensive tackles not only in Bomber history, but in the history of the entire Canadian Football League.
Brown was formally inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame this year and was added to the Bombers Ring of Honour in October. He is a Bomber Hall of Famer, a seven-time CFL All-Star, eight-time divisional all-star and was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian in 2001, his first in Winnipeg after stints with the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills. He was the voted the Bombers Most Outstanding Player in 2008, the team’s Most Outstanding Canadian eight times and Most Outstanding Defensive Player three times.
On top of all that, Brown would be a starter on the CFL’s all-time all-quote team. An introspective and well-read sort, he began writing a column for the Winnipeg Sun in the early 2000s and, after jumping to the Free Press as a free agent, continues to do so weekly in the city’s broadsheet while serving as the colour analyst on CJOB’s Bomber broadcasts.
December 15, 2016 – His teammates called him ‘Big Cat’ and it was a nickname that seemed to fit perfectly. Bobby Thompson was 6-foot-8 and 300-plus pounds when then-Bombers offensive line coach Ellis Rainsberger convinced the big man to come north to play for the club in 1979. Good call. Thompson was part of an offensive line that included John Bonk, Butch Norman and Larry Butler, among others, that helped protect Dieter Brock, a prototypical pocket passer. Thompson, who was described as a ‘terrific teammate’ by Trevor Kennerd, was named a CFL all-star in 1982. He passed away in Winnipeg at the age of 46 after suffering a stroke.
“He was one of the nicest guys in the locker room,” Kennerd told The Winnipeg Sun after Thompson’s passing. “A happy fellow. Extremely kind and gentle off the field, and a heck of a football player.”
December 8, 2016 – Tom Scott is a Canadian Football Hall of Famer who came north to Winnipeg after being drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1973. He spent four years with the Bombers, was the West Division’s top rookie in 1974 and an All-Star in 1977 after pulling in 66 passes for 1,079 yards and 10 touchdowns. But he wanted a change of scenery then and the Bombers opted to ship him to Edmonton for the Eskimos’ first territorial exemption pick in 1978 – a young receiver out of the University of Alberta named Joe Poplawski.
You could say the deal worked out for both teams.
Scott was part of the Eskimo dynasty that won five championships over a span from 1978-82 while Poplawski became a hall of famer in his own right and one of the greatest players ever to pull on a Bomber jersey. Scott finished his career in Calgary in 1984 and had six 1,000-yard seasons.
December 1, 2016 – His nickname was ‘Quick’ and James Murphy flashed that quickness on just about every pass route he ran over a stellar eight-year career in which he broke a ton of Bomber receiving records.
Joining the Bombers late in the 1982 season after being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings out of Utah State with a pit stop with the Kansas City Chiefs, Murphy began to establish himself as a favourite for Bomber quarterbacks. He could burn defensive backs deep and turn a simple short pass into big gains.
It was in 1986 that Murphy really established himself as a star, setting a club record that still stands with 116 receptions for 1,746 yards (then a record, later broken by Milt Stegall in 2002) en route to being named the Canadian Football League’s Most Outstanding Player.
Murphy was part of three Grey Cup championship teams – 1984, 1988 and 1990 – although he did play in the ’90 game after having ankle surgery in September of that year that essentially ended his career. When he hung up his cleats, he was the Bombers all-time receiving yardage leader (9,036), all-time receptions leader (573) and all-time receiving touchdowns leader (61) – marks that have since been eclipsed by Stegall.
He was inducted into the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame in 1995, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.
November 24, 2016 – Tom Burgess seemed to forever be fighting the impression that football clubs could do better than him at the quarterback position.
It’s why the Ottawa Rough Riders dealt him to Saskatchewan after the 1986 season for Joe Paopao. It’s why the Roughriders moved on after their 1989 Grey Cup win, opting to keep Kent Austin and move their No. 1 to Winnipeg despite the instrumental role Burgess had played in their championship season.
But upon arrival in Winnipeg in 1990 Burgess proved to be a perfect fit for a Bombers team that was built on defence and just needed its quarterback to play efficient football.
The Colgate product would play just two years in Winnipeg, but guided the team to its last Grey Cup championship in a win over Edmonton and being named the game’s MVP in the process. The Bombers would return to the East Final in 1991 – the year the Grey Cup was being hosted by Winnipeg for the first time – but Burgess’ numbers had dropped and the club opted to hitch their wagon to Matt Dunigan in free agency in the winter of 1992. He returned to Ottawa as a free agent that same season and over the next two years passed for over 9,000 yards and 59 TDs before finishing his career back in Saskatchewan.
There have been flashier QBs and guys with stronger arms and more mobility. But to this day those who shared a huddle with Tom Burgess raved about his toughness and his ability to lead. And they’ve got Grey Cup rings as proof.
November 17, 2016 – No Canadian Football League franchise has appeared in more Grey Cups than the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, with 24 visits to the championship.
And while there have been 10 titles along the way, there has also been some heartbreak. And some heartbreak under rather trying circumstances.
There was the 2007 loss with starting quarterback Kevin Glenn watching from the sidelines with a broken arm as the Saskatchewan Roughriders exited with a victory and extended Winnipeg’s Grey Cup drought.
There was the 1993 loss to the Edmonton Eskimos with Matt Dunigan, the Bombers star QB, watching from the sidelines as Sam Garza took command of the huddle.
There was the 1950 Grey Cup – the Mud Bowl – in which the Bombers fell 13-0 in a slop that made it impossible for star QB Jack Jacobs to weave his magic.
And 1965 gave us the ‘The Wind Bowl’, which the Bombers – the photo here showing linebacker Paul Robson making a tackle – surrendered three safeties with the wind gusting up to 40 miles per hour at CNE Stadium in Toronto, in what was the difference in a 22-16 Hamilton Tiger-Cats victory.
November 10, 2016 – He came north in 1958, following his University of Iowa teammate Ken Ploen in a path that led them both to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Frank Rigney had choices: he was a fourth-round draft choice of the Philadelphia Eagles, but opted to sign with the Bombers. It was a wise move. Not only were the Bombers offering more money, Rigney would be a part of the Bombers’ Glory Years, winning Grey Cup championships in 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1962.
He was a seven-time West Division all-star and named to the Canadian Football League all-star team in 1962, 1965 and 1966 – earning the league’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman Award in 1961. He was inducted into both the Canadian Football and the Winnipeg Football Club Halls of Fame in 1985.
After his playing days – which ended in 1967 – Rigney moved to Vancouver where he settled into a post-playing-days career in the insurance business and as a popular analyst on CFL telecasts on both CBC and CTV. He also covered the 1980 and 1984 Winter Olympics.
Rigney, for years, spoke about the toll the game took on his body. He needed a shoulder replacement in 2003, had a toe amputated in 2004 and then his right leg amputated below his knee after an infection.
Upon his death in 2010, Ploen remarked: “You can’t say enough about him. He’s the type of guy that you meet once in a lifetime coming through and you certainly hate to see it come to an end.”
November 3, 2016 – The Bombers have had some dandy Canadians over the years, too many to mention here. But it’s been a while since they had a dominant Canadian receiver. In fact, it dates back to the days of Gerald Wilcox, who put up some sparkling numbers in his five years in blue and gold.
Still in the Top 10 in Bomber career receiving yardage – he was just passed by Clarence Denmark, who is now ninth – Wilcox was the last Canadian pass catcher to finish with a 1,000-yard season, leading the team in receiving in 1995, his third consecutive 1K campaign.
A first-round draft pick of the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1989, Wilcox was traded to Winnipeg in June of 1992 for Less Browne. Limited to just four games that season, Wilcox followed up with a three-year stretch in which he absolutely blossomed. Wilcox had 79 receptions for 1,340 yards and 10 TDs in ’93, 111 catches for 1,624 yards and 13 TDs in ’94, and then 60 for 1,024 and five TDs in ’95. He was a West All-Star and the runner up as the Most Outstanding Canadian in 1993 and followed that up by being a West All-Star, CFL All-Star and the top Canadian in ’94.
Wilcox was hampered by injuries in ’96 and then traded to Calgary in ’97 for the rights to RB Dick Tyler and OL Franco Rocco. He played just two games that season before retiring that July.
His 1,624 yards in 1994 is the third-highest in club history behind Milt Stegall (1,896 in 2002) and James Murphy (1,746 in 1986) and his 111 receptions that same season is the second-most by a Bomber to Murphy’s 116 in 1986.
In 2001, Wilcox was inducted into the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame.
October 27, 2016 – Long before Milt Stegall ripped up the Winnipeg Blue Bombers receiving records; before James Murphy torched defences; before Joe Poplawski dominated and Terrence Edwards consistently pulled in passes, there was Ernie ‘Zazu’ Pitts.
Pitts came to the Bombers in 1957 after being signed by Bud Grant on a tip. He would spend the next 13 years in a Winnipeg uniform before moving to the B.C. Lions, where his career ended with his tragic death in 1970 (he was shot by his estranged wife).
Pitts retired as the Bombers’ all-time leading receiver with 337 receptions for 5,525 yards and 54 touchdowns, while helping the club win four Grey Cup championships in 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1962. His 16 touchdowns in 1959 is still the fourth-highest total in club history
Pitts was a six-time All-Star – 1957, 1959, 1960, 1965, 1966 and 1968 – and, of note, he was such a gifted athlete that his last three appearances on the All-Star squad were as a defensive back. After the 1964 season, Pitts didn’t catch another pass for the Bombers, instead turning to defence and had seven interceptions during the 1968 season and another five a year later.
Pitts was inducted into the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame in 1986.
October 20, 2016 – He was born here in 1932 and, after returning home years later, helped guide the Bombers through much of the 1980s and 1990s. Cal Murphy – ‘Kindly Cal’ as he was known by some – was one of the most successful head coaches in Bomber history and then a dominant voice as a GM and executive.
Murphy had already been a successful assistant head coach during the Edmonton Eskimos dynasty of 1978-82 when then-Bombers GM Paul Robson brought him aboard as head coach in 1983. Murphy was patrolling the sidelines when the Bombers ended a 22-year championship drought by winning the 1984 Grey Cup and, after selecting Mike Riley as his replacement, was the GM when the team won again in 1988 and 1990.
Murphy played football, too, moving west with his family and starring at Vancouver College and the University of British Columbia before turning to coaching.
It was a wise move.
Murphy began his association with the CFL in 1974 with the B.C. Lions and was the Leos’ head coach during a stretch from 1975-76 when Eagle Keys was fired. Murphy joined Marv Levy’s staff in 1977, then the Esks in 1978 and by the time he was done with the game he had nine Grey Cup rings.
A two-time winner of the CFL’s Coach of the Year Award (1983, 1984), Murphy returned to the sidelines in 1992 as head coach – one year after playing a pivotal role in landing the 1991 Grey Cup for Winnipeg – but suffered a heart attack and needed emergency bypass surgery to keep him alive before a donor became available at the last moment.
Urban Bowman would guide the Bombers in his place – with Murphy calling a lot of shots from his hospital bed in London, Ont. – and then was back at work in 1993, coaching the team through to the end of the 1996 season.
Murphy would wind up his career coaching with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, as well as the Chicago Enforcers of the XFL and Frankfurt Galaxy of NFL Europe and was serving as a scout for the Indianapolis Colts when he passed away in 2012.
Murphy was inducted into the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame in 2002, the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2004 and is second only to Bud Grant in career wins with the Bombers with 86, including a .627 winning percentage.
October 13, 2016 – The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have long produced some outstanding linebackers dating back to their inception in the 1930’s to the current crew that has the club headed to the playoffs. But back in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, the club so consistently fielded all-star crews that dominated the league they were often referred to as a ‘Linebacker Factory.’ This photo, taken in 1986 in Ottawa, is a prime example – left to right it features Tyrone Jones, James West, Vernon Pahl, Darrell Patterson and Delbert Fowler.
- Jones, a Bomber and Canadian Football Hall of Famer, was a CFL All-Star in ’86.
- West, another Bomber and Canadian Football Hall of Famer, was in his first full season with the Bombers that year and led the club with 120 tackles while adding two interceptions and four sacks.
- Pahl, a third-round draft choice out of UPEI in 1980, was a capable back up and solid special teams player.
- Patterson was named the Bombers Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 1986 after racking up 102 tackles, one interception and six sacks,
- Fowler chipped in during the ’86 season with 56 tackles, one interception and eight sacks.
The West Division, much like this year, was a beast in 1986 with Edmonton finishing first at 13-4-1, B.C. second at 12-6 with Winnipeg and Calgary tied at 11-7. Back then the CFL didn’t have a crossover format, but instead allowed the fourth-place team in the West to qualify for the playoffs if it had a better record than the third-place team in the East. Winnipeg fell to the Lions 21-14 in the first round of the playoffs that year, with Edmonton knocking off Calgary, then B.C. before falling to Hamilton in the Grey Cup.
October 6, 2016 – Dave Ritchie was a lot of things during his six years as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. And ‘boring’ wasn’t one of them.
Ritchie helped lead the Bombers out of the wilderness after the nightmares of 1997-98 when the team went 7-29, taking over in 1999 and guiding the club to the East Final in 2000 and the Grey Cup in 2001.
A tough, hard-nosed graduate of the ‘old school’, Ritchie was also a grandfatherly-type absolutely adored by his players. He is third on the club’s all-time wins list as a coach with 52, behind only Bud Grant (102) and Cal Murphy (86).
We also salute Ritchie today for his entertainment value. His was a time when the daily media sessions were held in his office, not at a podium under bright studio lights. And displayed prominently on his desk was this message, framed: ‘If I ever need a brain transplant I’ll know to get one from a sportswriter because I know it’s never been used.’
Ritchie was known on occasion to spit out metaphors that only he seemed to understand. Here are a few of our other favourite Ritchie-isms as we tip our hats to the man on #BombersTBT:
- “I think so… no, I know so. A lot of times I say I think so when I know so. So, when I say I think so, just take for granted I know so.”
- “We are the underdogs. Everybody in the CFL says we’re going to get beat handily. I know we’ve played well enough to be the upperdog in the avenue of dogs. It’s going to be a junkyard dogfight at Canad Inns Pound.”
- “Right now I feel like I’m Santa Claus. Or that little Irishman that gives everything away… a leprechaun? That’s what I feel like. Candy and what is it? Candy and nuts… if ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts we’d all have a Merry Christmas.”
September 29, 2016 – He was first. Before Jacobs and Lewis, Ploen, Grant, James, Walby, Stegall, Brock… all of them.
Fritz Hanson was the Bombers’ first real superstar, having come north from Perham, Minnesota in 1935 as one of the first imported stars of Canadian football for the promise of $125 per game and free room and board. That was a lot of coin back during The Depression, but Hanson proved to be worth every penny.
The accompanying photo is one of the most-interesting in the archives at the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame as it features Hanson (left) with legendary American crooner and actor Bing Crosby while on a hunting trip in this province.
Hanson stood just 5-foot-7 and weighed in at just 145 pounds, but he so frustrated would-be tacklers and thrilled fans that he was called, among other things, ‘The Perham Flash’, ‘The Dipsy Doodle Dandy’, ‘Twinkle Toes’ and ‘The Galloping Ghost.’
Hanson would help lead the Bombers to their first Grey Cup, as the ‘Winnipegs’ were the first team from Western Canada to capture the coveted trophy in 1935. And again in 1939 and 1941. In that historic win in 1935, Hanson set a Grey Cup record that still stands with 334 yards on 13 punt returns, including a 78-yarder for the winning score.
By the time he retired in 1948, after helping lead the Calgary Stampeders to a title that year, Hanson was a four-time Grey Cup champion (three with the Bombers), was named the winner of the 1939 Lionel Conacher Award as Canada’s Male Athlete of the Year, and a five-time (1937, 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941) All-Western running back.
He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1963, the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 1980, and was among the first class of inductees into the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame when it first opened in 1984. Hanson became a Canadian citizen in 1966 and passed away 30 years later in Calgary at the age of 81.
September 22, 2016 – There have been a ton of homegrowns who have pulled on Bomber colours over the years and absolutely sparkled. Chris Walby comes to mind. So does Ed Kotowich, Ron Latourelle, Steve Patrick, Norm Rauhaus… the list is long and impressive.
Count Scott Flagel among them.
Flagel, who turns 55 on Monday, is a Winnipeg product who played his junior football with the St. James Cobras before playing college ball at Arizona Western and joined the Bombers in 1982. An exceptional athlete and quick study, Flagel quickly morphed into a dominant safety for the Bombers and was a CFL All-Star in 1986 and 1987 – and also with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 1989. His 1987 season was his best as Flagel was named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Canadian.
September 15, 2016 – It’s one of those debates that doesn’t really have an incorrect answer.
Who is the greatest Winnipeg Blue Bomber of all time?
Many will say Ken Ploen. Great choice. Or Milt Stegall, the CFL’s all-time touchdown leader. A strong argument could be made for Chris Walby or Dieter Brock, who won back-to-back Most Outstanding Player awards.
But every discussion undoubtedly includes Leo Lewis, the gifted running back who came north with the nickname ‘The Lincoln Locomotive’ and ran around, through and past enemy defenders, for 12 seasons as a Blue Bomber.
The late, great, Lewis will be added to the Bombers’ Ring of Honour this weekend, taking his rightful place among Ploen, Walby, Stegall, Brock and Gerry James.
Lewis was part of four Grey Cup champion teams in 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1962 and appeared in two other championships – 1957 and the 1965 ‘Wind Bowl’ in which he scored on a five-yard run, pictured here.
Lewis wasn’t just good, he was legendary. So much so that head coach Bud Grant – who went on to coach the Minnesota Vikings – still refers to him as the greatest player he ever coached.
Lewis was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1973, the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame in 1984 and both the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame in 2005.
He was the Bombers all-time leading rusher from his retirement in 1966 until Charles Roberts surpassed him in 2007 and remains the Bombers all-time combined yardage leader with 18,577 yards (8,861 rushing; 4,251 receiving, 5,465 in returns).
September 8, 2016 – We’re veering off our usual script a bit for this week’s Bombers Throwback Thursday as we salute two men: the latest addition to the club’s Ring of Honour presented by IBAM in Dieter Brock, shown here with long-time Bomber executive Jerry Maslowsky, who we lost on Sunday.
Brock remains a legend in these parts as the club’s all-time passing yardage leader (29,623), pass completions leader (2,167) and passing touchdowns leader (177). Brock’s strong arm is legendary to the point that Los Angeles Rams head coach John Robinson – who signed him after his CFL days – once said upon his arrival to The Sports Xchange: “He calls up and comes in for a workout. We shake hands and first thing I notice is his arms are like Popeye’s. Huge. Then he throws a few balls and it was really shocking.”
Brock led the CFL in passing in three separate seasons while with the Bombers (1978, 1980, 1981) and won back-to-back Most Outstanding Player Awards. He was inducted into the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1995.
Maslowsky, who passed away the morning of last week’s Labour Day Classic after a battle with cancer, was a diehard fan, historian and a member of the club’s executive for 15 years as a Vice President of Marketing.
Shown here with Brock, Maslowsky had an appreciation for the connection this team has had with this city and province over the years, dating back to its inception in 1930, and worked tirelessly to both preserve and promote it. This community will sorely miss him.
September 1, 2016 – Rod Hill was 29 by the time he first pulled on a Winnipeg Blue Bombers jersey.
A first-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys, 25th overall, in the 1982 NFL Draft, Hill spent two seasons there as a defensive back and kick returner before bouncing to the Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions and Los Angeles Raiders and finally venturing north to the Canadian Football League.
And while bouncing around the NFL may have left him feeling unwanted and frustrated with the business of the game, playing with the Bombers helped rekindle his love for the sport. Hill was simply dominant during his five years with Winnipeg, starting for all five years, winning two Grey Cups in 1988 and 1990, and playing in another in 1992.
A CFL All-star in 1989 and 1990, Hill remains the Bombers’ all-time interception leader with 47. And it was 26 years ago this month when he had one of the most memorable games of his career as he picked off five passes while covering Hamilton Tiger-Cats legend Tony Champion. Hill would finish with 12 interceptions that year – his opposite corner, Less Browne, would have 14 – as the Bombers set a CFL record that still stands with 48 picks as a team.
Hill, who still lives in Winnipeg, was inducted into the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame in 1996.
August 25, 2016 – Bud Grant still gets a lot of love to this day in these parts. And with good reason.
He first came north to the Bombers as a player in 1953, spending four years in uniform before being named the team’s head coach in 1957. As good as he was on the field, it’s what he accomplished with the head set on that made Grant special.
The Bombers would appear in six Grey Cups during his days as head coach from 1957-66, winning four in 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1962. During those glory days, he racked up 102 regular season wins – still tops on the Bombers’ all-time list – and was named the CFL’s top coach in 1965.
He left for the Vikings in 1967 and became an icon with that franchise too, in coaching it to three NFC titles, becoming the first coach in history to guide teams to both the Grey Cup and Super Bowl. He’s also the Vikings’ all-time leader in wins.
A gifted three-sport athlete in college – he played baseball, was a draft pick and played for the Minnesota Lakers of the NBA and played for both the Bombers and Philadelphia Eagles – Grant was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1983, the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame in 1984, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1994.
A salute to the one and only legend, Harry Peter ‘Bud’ Grant.
August 18, 2016 – The Blue Bombers have had meaner – and certainly leaner – linebacker/rush ends in their long-storied existence than the late, great Tyrone Jones.
But it could be said no one milked more out of every day than Jones – the popular, outspoken and dominant pass rusher who was part of part of the defensive backbone that was the trademark of the Bombers in the 1980s-early 1990s.
Jones spent eight years in Bomber colours, joining the club in 1983 after a stellar career at Southern University, leaving after the 1987 season to play with the Phoenix Cardinals and then returning in 1989 to play three more seasons.
He was a four-time Canadian Football League All-Star (1984, 1985, 1986 and 1987), was the Most Outstanding Defensive Player in the 1984 Grey Cup win over Hamilton, was honoured as the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 1985, remains the Bombers all-time quarterback sack leader with 98 and was inducted into the club’s hall of fame and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
He was also a hall of fame trash talker, regularly frustrating his opponents with a series of verbal shots and then consistently backing them all up in every game.
Jones passed away in 2008 at the age of 46, living three years after being diagnosed with a brain tumour and being told he had three months to live. He would have turned 55 this month.
August 11, 2016 – There were louder guys back in the days Stan Mikawos helped man the trenches for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Much louder.
Yes, anyone who played on teams with the likes of Tyrone Jones and James West, Chris Walby, Miles Gorrell, Less Browne, Rod Hill and Matt Dunigan – among many, many more – was often seen, but not heard. That likely suited Stan Mikawos just fine during a stellar career as a defensive tackle from 1982-96.
Born in Gdansk, Poland, Mikawos grew up in Winnipeg and starred at Gordon Bell High School, Mesabi Junior College and then the University of North Dakota before being a territorial protection draft choice of the Bombers in 1982.
A tough-as-nails competitor who was as durable as he was gritty, Mikawos was part of three Grey-Cup championship teams (1984, 1988, 1990) and played in five total. He scored a touchdown in the ’84 championship, scooping up a Dieter Brock fumble after a Tyrone Jones sack and rumbling 22 yards for a score that broke a 17-17 tie and was the catalyst to a blowout win.
Under-rated but never unappreciated, Mikawos was the glue to the Bombers front seven during one of the franchise’s most-dominant periods. He was inducted into the Blue Bomber Hall of Fame in 2000.
August 4, 2016 – Remember the old expression about being able to throw the ball through a carwash without the ball getting wet? This is the guy that surely inspired it: Ralph/Dieter Brock, the hard-throwing Alabaman nicknamed the ‘The Birmingham Rifle.’
Brock first came north to Winnipeg in 1974, joining a club that featured Don Jonas and Tommy Pharr at quarterback. But it didn’t take long for the coaching staff to realize they had a bonafide prospect on their hands. By midseason, Jonas had been traded to Hamilton for Chuck Ealey, and midway through 1975, Brock stepped behind centre and immediately began filling the skies with passes (while Ealey was traded again).
Brock is the only Blue Bomber to have won consecutive Canadian Football League Most Outstanding Player Awards in 1980 and 1981, and in ’81 he broke Sam Etcheverry’s CFL record for passing yards in a season with 4,796.
The Bombers of the late 70s and early 80s were a dominant bunch. But their path to glory was blocked by the Edmonton Eskimos dynasty that won five consecutive Grey Cups (1978-82) during that same timespan.
Brock’s exit from the Bombers in 1983 caused headlines. He was in the third of a five-year contract with the club and wanted to be released early to pursue either NFL or USFL opportunities, just as Warren Moon had done. The club refused, the relationship frayed, and Brock made his infamous remark about life in Winnipeg when he said: “How many times can you go to the zoo?’
He was traded to Hamilton for Tom Clements and the two, fittingly enough, would guide their two clubs to the 1984 Grey Cup game. Bomber fans know how the rest turned out, with Winnipeg throttling the Tabbies 47-17 to end a 22-year championship drought.
Brock joined the Los Angeles Rams a year later as a 33-year-old rookie and, despite battling injuries all season, led the team to a division title while setting three team rookie passing records. The Rams were crushed by the Chicago Bears in the 1985 NFC Championship game and Brock’s days in L.A. were done.
He retired after 1985 and turned to coaching in college, in the CFL with Hamilton, Ottawa and Edmonton and then in high school.
Brock, who was inducted into the Bomber Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1995, remains the team’s all-time passing yardage leader (29,623) and passing TD leader (177).
He is shown here with head coach Ray Jauch in 1980 and the jersey features a shoulder-sleeve logo celebrating the club’s 50th anniversary.
July 28, 2016 – Before Bud Grant, Ken Ploen, Leo Lewis, Herb Gray and all those legends of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers glory years from 1958-62, there was Jack Jacobs (27, standing) and Tom Casey (91, sitting).
This fantastic duo helped make the Bombers relevant again, beginning in 1950 upon their arrival. The club had gone 3-9 in 1948 and 2-12 in 1949 and were looking to put some shine back on their star. In came Jacobs, a full-blooded Cherokee and star from Oklahoma who had already played in the NFL with Cleveland, Washington and Green Bay.
The Bombers signed Jacobs for $6,000 to be their quarterback and kicker, and it was positively money well spent. Legendary sportscaster Bob Picken wrote this of Jacobs in ‘Blue and Gold’, the historical book on the Bombers published in 2005:
“Jacobs was dynamic. When he wasn’t threading the needle on passes to Casey, (Bill) Kelley, or local product Bud Korchak – who played the old flying wing position – he was lofting towering punts toward the fences in Osborne Stadium, with its below-regulation 100-yard field and 10-yard end zones. The Bombers won six out of seven home games in 1950 and the roar of capacity crowds shook the foundation of the adjacent Amphitheatre and rattled the Golden Boy atop the legislature across the street.”
The Bombers would advance to the 1950 Grey Cup – the infamous Mud Bowl – and fell to the Toronto Argonauts. But they would become so popular under Jacobs & Co. it led to the construction of Winnipeg Stadium at Polo Park in 1953, dubbed ‘The House that Jack Built.’
Casey, meanwhile, would lead the Bombers in both rushing and receiving in 1950 and again top the rushing charts in 1951. He came to Winnipeg after playing for both the New York Yankees of the All-American Football Conference and the Hamilton Wildcats in 1949.
He spent seven years in a Bomber uniform, would later become a doctor, and to this day is fondly referred to as one of the true gentlemen of Winnipeg’s sporting history.
Both Jacobs, who passed away in 1974, and Casey, who passed in 2002, are members of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame and the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
July 21, 2016 – They called him ‘Kid Dynamite’ and it fit perfectly, not just because his father Eddie, was nicknamed ‘Dynamite’. Gerry James was explosive indeed, setting 18 different Canadian Football League records during his career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers from 1952-62.
He was just 17 and a local kid who had attended Kelvin High School when he cracked the Bombers roster as a running back and kicker in 1952, and was part of four Grey Cup championships, coming in 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1962. James is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame and both the Manitoba and Saskatchewan Sports Hall Fame.
Now, even if his story ended there, it would be more than just compelling. But it’s the other layer of James’ career that made him one of this country’s greatest athletes. In addition to being a spectacular football player, James could also play hockey. He was a Memorial Cup champion with the Toronto Marlboros, and in 1955, made his National Hockey League debut at the Montreal Forum as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“My goal growing up was to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers,” James, who will be added to the Bombers’ Ring of Honour Thursday, told bluebombers.com. “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 Fordum 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.”
July 14, 2016 – No doubt Ken Ploen has heard many standing ovations over the years after a spectacular career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers that earned him spots in the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame.
It’s time for another.
Ploen will be added to the Ring of Honour during Thursday’s game against the Edmonton Eskimos, and the now 81-year-old legend is certainly worthy of at least one more tribute. He played here, worked here, and stayed and raised a family here after coming north from Iowa in 1957.
He was a winner on the field with four Grey Cup championships to his name in 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1962, and was such a gifted athlete that he was both an all-star at quarterback and at defensive back. Oh, and back in his youth he turned down an offer to play basketball at Kentucky, one of the most hallowed hoops programs in the country, to stay in Iowa and play for the Hawkeyes. Good call: Ploen led Iowa to the 1957 Rose Bowl, earning MVP honours.
Our favourite part of the #BombersTBT photo? What appears to be a ‘nice try’ smirk on Ploen’s face as he darts past a Saskatchewan Roughrider trying to tackle him.
July 7, 2016 – We like our football players tough in this town. And so, who better to serve up as evidence than Herb Gray, who suited up with the Blue Bombers from 1956-65 and absolutely owned the line of scrimmage.
Heck, check out the accompanying photo of the man (pictured with Ken Ploen) with his jersey dirtied and his nose bloodied as if it was just another day at the office.
A defensive end and offensive guard during the Bombers’ first glory years, Gray was born in Sattler, Texas, starred at the University of Texas and was drafted by the Baltimore Colts before coming north to Canada.
He was the defensive captain in nine of his 10 years with the Bombers and was the squad’s heart and soul. He was the first defensive player to win the CFL’s Most Outstanding Lineman award, but was so skilled he was also named to the West Division All-Star Team as a guard in 1965. Gray appeared in six Grey Cups, winning four (1958, 1959, 1961, 1962) and was named the Bombers Defensive player of the Half Century in 1980.
Ironically, Gray left the Bombers after the 1956 season after a falling out with then-head coach Allie Sherman. But it was the new coach, Bud Grant, who asked Gray to return. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Gray was named to the CFL’s all-time team in 1993, was among the first players inducted into the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame upon its inception in 1984, was named to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.
He passed away in 2011 at the age of 76.
“Herb had stamina that nobody else did,” long-time teammate Steve Patrick once said. “He’d be going all out on the first play of the game, and still be going all out on the last play.”
June 30, 2016 – John Hufnagel already had a number of years under his belt when he arrived in Winnipeg in October 1983 in a trade with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. A product of Penn State who was a 14th round draft pick of the Denver Broncos, Hufnagel first came to Calgary in 1976 for the final seven games of the CFL season. He started 30 games over the next two years as the Stamps’ No. 1 gun, but lost his starting gig to Ken Johnson in 1979 and opted to sign with the Riders in 1980.
He spent the next four years in Regina before being traded in ’83 along with defensive lineman J.C. Pelusi for QB Nickie Hall, WR Nate Johnson, DL Jason Riley and a fourth round pick in 1984.
Hufnagel wasn’t busy in 1984-85 backing up Tom Clements, but saw a lot of action in 1986 with the Clements injured, and posted his career-best season with 3,394 yards passing for 21 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. His 6,804 yards passing still ranks 10th on the Bombers all-time list after Dieter Brock (29,623), Khari Jones (20,175), Kevin Glenn (18,116), Ken Ploen (16,470), Tom Clements (14,917), Don Jonas (12,291), Matt Dunigan (11,504), Jack Jacobs (11,094) and Tom Burgess (8,170).
These days Hufnagel is the GM of the Stampeders, having just handed the coaching gig over to Dave Dickenson at the start of the 2016 season. He won two Grey Cups as the Stamps coach and posted a 102-41-1 record for a sparkling .712 win percentage.
June 23, 2016 – He was Dominant with a capital ‘D’. #BombersTBT salutes defensive lineman John Helton, one of the toughest hombres ever to wear blue and gold.
Helton, along with Bob Molle and play-by-play ace Bob Irving, were announced this week as the 2016 inductees into the Blue Bombers Hall of Fame. The long-time Calgary Stampeder came to Winnipeg in a trade in 1979 and continued to be one of the Canadian Football League’s dominant lineman until his retirement following the 1982 season.
Get this: Helton was a NINE time Canadian Football League All-Star, a 12-time West-Division All Star, was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 1974, and the CFL’S Most Outstanding Lineman in 1972.
And in these parts he’s often remembered for a bogus late-hit call on Warren Moon in the 1982 West Final that robbed the Bombers of a chance to end the Edmonton Eskimos dynasty and advance to the Grey Cup.
“I’ll always remember the roughing penalty I got against Warren Moon,” Helton told bluebombers.com “I told the referee when he was standing there in front of Moon, ‘You know, ref, if I knew I was going to get a penalty for rolling on the ground with Warren Moon, I’d have broke his neck.’ Warren saw me in Calgary later at a youth foundation that he could hear me telling the ref that. He said it was unfortunate.
“That was an incident that hurt my team, it was terrible. Had I been known as a dirty player or one that took cheap shots then I’d have gotten my just desserts. But I don’t think in my entire football career I had a roughing penalty more than once.”
June 16, 2016 – They could kick you on the turf – having won four Grey Cup titles in five years from 1958-62 – and could play a little hoops, too. This photo is of the 1960-61 Blue Bombers basketball team, which won the local Senior ‘A’ division back in the day.
Little wonder. This is an exceptional group of athletes and Bud Grant, third from the left in the back row, just so happened to play with the Minnesota Lakers of the National Basketball Association after finishing university. Grant was a fourth round choice of the Lakers in the 1950 NBA Draft, averaged 2.6 points per game as a reserve over two seasons and was a member of Minnesota’s 1950 NBA championship team.
Back row (left to right): Ken Ploen, Charlie Shepard, Bud Grant, Farrell Funston, Frank Rigney
Front row: (left to right): Ray Jauch, Nick Miller, Glen McWhinney, John Michels, Norm Rauhaus
June 9, 2016 – They called Leo Lewis the ‘Lincoln Locomotive’ after he dominated at Lincoln University before heading north to the Blue Bombers in 1955.
And he wasn’t just good – he is a member of the College Football, Canadian Football, Blue Bombers and Manitoba Sports Halls of Fame – he was absolutely brilliant.
In fact, Bud Grant would call him the best player he ever coached – in either the Canadian Football League or National Football League.
A six-time all star, he retired as the Bombers’ all-time leading rusher with 8,861 yards and held that record for 41 years before being surpassed by Charles Roberts. Lewis was a member of four Grey Cup championship teams (1958, 1959, 1961, 1962).
In this photo, taken on Nov. 11, 1962, Lewis is being awarded the Canada Packers Trophy, then given annually to the Most Outstanding Player on the Bombers. Details are sketchy as to whether the cow was also included.
June 2, 2016 – The Bombers were suffering through some sour years when Don Jonas arrived in 1971, and he was the man who helped make the club sexy again. Jonas was the first Bomber to win the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award – seems ridiculous, given the likes of Ken Ploen and Leo Lewis back in the day – but he helped lead masses back onto the bandwagon.
Hed led the Bombers from last place in 1970 (2-14) to 7-8-1 and a playoff berth in 1971 while leading the CFL in scoring (he also was the placekicker) and named to the league’s all-star team. The two QBs on the CFL All-Star squad before him in 1968 and 1969 were none other than Russ Jackson and Ron Lancaster.
May 26, 2016 – Training camp is upon us and what better way to launch our #BombersTBT than with a pair of legendary kickers who rocked the old single-bar facemasks in Trevor Kennerd and Bob Cameron.
This duo would often disappear during long stretches of gruelling two-a-days during camp, but then make it up to their brethren by returning with a wagon of Slurpees. It was a tradition kept alive after Kennerd retired and Troy Westwood joined Cameron to handle the kicking chores.
Both Cameron and Kennerd are in the Bomber Hall of Fame and the former was the first punter ever inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.