This is the 14th in a series of 10 off-season “Blue Bomber Stories,” (honest, this is the last one) that are actual excerpts from the next football book written by the authors of Quiet Hero: The Ken Ploen Story. Scott Taylor and Roy Rosmus provide young fans with an opportunity to learn a little about the history of one of the greatest franchises in CFL history…
By Roy Rosmus (with some editing from Scott Taylor)
Our team, Winnipeg’s team, the aptly-named Blue Bombers, is not only a great Canadian Football League franchise but a legendary one.
The problem is — and has been for a long time — that this team’s history has been largely forgotten, some might even say ignored, for far too long. This series of articles has only been a small sampling of the stories we’ve unearthed and given new life. In fact, thanks to these pieces, we’ve become much closer with Dave Raimey, Dick Thornton, Gerry James and the family of Fritzie Hanson.
Now it’s time for a final commentary on what I believe is truly “Canada’s Team,” and its influence and sometimes dominance over the Western Conference and later the CFL, from the very earliest of of football times.
To really understand the history of the Bombers, you need to understand three ‘Eras.” The Early Years from 1935 to 1947; The Golden Years from 1957-1965; and The Blue Thunder Years from 1984-1990.
If you understand those Three Eras, the rest of the Bombers history is pretty easy. And often forgettable. But you should always remember this:
1. The Blue Bombers were the first team from West of the Great Lakes to win the Grey Cup and they won it the very first time they ever played for the Cup in 1935.
2. The Bombers were the only Western team to win a Grey Cup (three, in fact, in 1935, 1939 and 1941) until Calgary broke through in 1948.
3. From 1935 to 1947 the Bombers went to the Cup 10 out of 13 years Several glitches along the way prevented the Blue and Gold from winning more than three Cups. In 1940 the Bombers were disqualified from playing in the Cup because of a dispute about rules.Eastern and Western rules were different and the East held sway in deciding who played for the Cup. Also in 1942 and 1943, because of the Second World War, Winnipeg didn’t have a team. Instead, we sent a mixture of senior league players and servicemen stationed in Winnipeg to challenge for those two War Year Cups. They didn’t win. Another situation arose in 1944 over how the team would travel to the Grey Cup. In the end the East disqualified the Bombers for a second time.
4. In 1935, the Bombers became the first team in Canada to set up a program to import star American players to the league. It was fear of the Bombers that forced the East — and later the CFL — to create the import/non-import ratio.
5. In 1941, the Blue Bombers became the first Canadian professional team to beat an American professional team
6. From the beginning of time, all the rules favored the East. The West always had to travel to the East to play, never with any knowledge of impending weather or field conditions. As well, the West had to play Eastern rules.
7. But the Bombers persevered and the West began to dominate. Calgary finally won in 1948 and then Winnipeg went back in 1950 and 1953. Then Edmonton followed up with three Cups before the arrival of Ken Ploen and The Blue Bomber Dynasty from 1957-65.
8. Then, after 19 years of stumbling around in the wilderness, the 1984 team arrived on the scene and with Tom Clements and “The Blue Thunder Defence,” the Bombers became one of the league’s most dominant clubs once again.
Winnipeg football fans might be living in a drought now (and yes, it’s been a long, 23-year drought), but we have so much glorious history to fall back on and cherish, and that’s something that can never be diminished.
And, while we’re discussing the history of Canada’s Team, the Blue Bombers also were a winning part of one of Canada’s most important milestones: The Blue Bombers not only played in but they won the 50th Grey Cup in 1962. That Grey Cup, of course, was the now famous “Fog Bowl” which was described as, “the greatest game no one saw.” It was the first, and likely only, game ever to be played over two days because the Commissioner, Winnipeg barrister G. Sydney Halter, had to postpone the final nine minutes and 29 seconds until the next day. Winnipeg beat Hamilton 28-27 that weekend, so while Winnipeg wasn’t close to going to the 100th Grey Cup Game, the Bombers did win the 50th.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers history is deep and rich. It should be celebrated.