This is the 11th in a series of 10 off-season “Blue Bomber Stories,” (yeah, yeah, we know, we just couldn’t help ourselves) 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 help from Scott Taylor)
On Dec. 7, 1935, the Winnipegs defeated the Hamilton Tigers 18-12 to win the Grey Cup. It was the first time a team from the West had claimed the Cup and it led to a dynasty that was as important to the eventual development of the Canadian Football League as any other influence.
Between 1935 and 1947 Winnipeg went to 10 Grey Cup games and won three of them. The Blue Bombers played in eight and won all three while the Winnipeg RCAF Bombers also played in two Grey Cup games in 1942 and 1943 and were beaten both times.
Still in the late 1930s and for most of the 1940s, teams from Winnipeg dominated Canada’s football landscape.
The hero was a runningback from Minnesota named Fritzie Hanson and there were also stars named Russ Rebholz, Arthur Stevenson and Mel Wilson, but there were three other players who played major roles in the success of early Winnipeg football. Let’s meet them:
Chester (Ches) McCance
Ches McCance started his career with Fred Ritter’s Deer Lodge Junior team and in 1937, he and a number of teammates, including the Hall of Famer Les Lear, joined the Blue Bombers.
He was sensational in the 1941 Grey Cup (his second Grey Cup victory) when he scored eight of the 18 points in Winnipeg’s 18-14 win over the Ottawa Rough Riders. McCance was a great athlete, a free spirit and a great joker. He once took off his shoes and socks on a train ride to a game and proceeded to stick his toe in a startled passengers’ coffee, loudly proclaiming that the waiter should bring a new cup as “this coffee has gone cold.”
In his 13-year professional football career (eight with Winnipeg and five with Montreal) as an end and kicker, McCance also played soccer and lacrosse, played basketball for Winnipeg’s St. Andrew’s Super Saints in several trips to the Canadian championships and he also played on a couple of Quebec teams that went to the Canadian curling championship.
He was only 41 when he died quietly, in his sleep, on May 8, 1956
Lieutenant-Colonel Jevon Albert “Jeff” Nicklin, OBE, played with the Bombers from 1934 to 1940 and won two Grey Cups. He was an all star end in ’37 and ’38. Nicklin, another great Winnipegger, was called the “best player” ever to playfor the Bombers by sportswriter Vince Leah.
He was a hero on the field, but he was also a hero off the gridiron. He cut his career short to go to war for Canada in 1941 and was one of the first Canadians to jump into Nazi territory on D-Day. He was killed in action in 1945 and was postumously awared the Order of the British Empire for his heroism and dedication to duty.
His football legacy today is the “Jeff Nicklin Memorial Trophy” which is awarded yearly to the most valuable player in the CFL’s Western Conference.
Fritz was the “playing coach” of the Winnipegs when they won the first Cup for then West in 1935. During that game, Fritz picked up a fumble and almost ran it back for a touchdown.
In those days it was illegal for a coach to send in plays to the quarterback, so all teams had “playing coaches.” Regardless, Fritz, who is almost forgotten today, was the first Winnipeg coach to win a cup.