Since its inception in 1930, the Winnipeg Football Club has come to represent quality sports, entertainment and community spirit.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have kept their fans captivated through the fumbles and touchdowns of the past 80 years and will continue to do so in the new millennium.
The community-owned Winnipeg Football Club began operation under the direction of Dick Mahoney on June 10, 1930 following the amalgamation of teams in the Manitoba Rugby Union. Then known as the "Winnipeg's," they became the first team west of Ontario to win the Grey Cup trophy when they claimed the silver chalice in 1935.
While the Winnipeg's were playing a 1936 exhibition game against the University of North Dakota, young Winnipeg Tribune sports writer Vince Leah remarked, "These are the Blue Bombers of Western football" - coining the phrase from Grantland Rice's moniker for then heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis a.k.a. The Brown Bomber. From that day, the Winnipeg Football Club has been known as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
The period from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s was the era of Winnipeg's first heroes - Fritzy Hanson, Greg Kabat, Russ Rebholz, Carl Cronin and Eddie James, to name but a few. From 1935-1945, the Blue Bombers appeared in eight Grey Cups (1935, 1937, 1938, 1939, 1941, 1942, 1943 & 1945) and won three times (1935, 1939 & 1941). Following Grey Cup visits in 1946 & 1947, the Bombers advanced to the Grey Cup five more times in the 1950s.
The early part of the decade was the Jack Jacobs era, as the famed aboriginal quarterback's exciting play and extreme talent increased ticket sales and overall awareness of the football club. The club generated enough revenue from those games in the early-1950s to warrant the building of a new stadium. In 1953, the Blue Bombers moved from Osborne Stadium (the present location of Great West Life) to play their first season in Winnipeg Stadium, fondly known as "The House that Jack Built."
A few years after Jacobs' retirement in 1954, the Blue Bombers entered their glory years. Under the direction of future CFL Hall of Famer Bud Grant from 1957-1966, they were led by the likes of Ken Ploen, Leo Lewis, Ernie Pitts, Charlie Shepard, and Ed Kotowich. More than 50,000 fans flooded the corner of Portage and Main for the inaugural Blue Bomber Kick-Off Party.
Charlie Shepard racked up 247 yards in the 1958 Grey Cup while scoring one touchdown, as his Bombers went on to beat Hamilton 35-28. Shepard was also named the MVP of the 1959 Grey Cup, when the Bombers edged Hamilton 21-7 at CNE Stadium in Toronto.
During this period, Winnipeg played in two storied Grey Cup encounters. In 1961 the championship battle between the Blue Bombers and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats became the first and, to date, only overtime game in Grey Cup history.
The Bombers emerged victorious in extra time, winning 21-14 courtesy of a Ken Ploen touchdown. Then on Dec. 1, 1962, the same two sides played all but the final 9:29 of the fourth quarter due to zero visibility at Toronto's CNE Stadium, in what has become known as the Fog Bowl. When the game resumed the next day, the score (28-27 for Winnipeg) didn't change and the Bombers pulled off another Grey Cup win.
Despite talented teams in the early and late-1970s, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers did not return to a Grey Cup championship game until 1984. Under the guidance of general manager Paul Robson and head coach Cal Murphy, the team not only won the Grey Cup that year, but also took home the title in 1988 and 1990. The Blue Bomber teams of the early-1990s were dynamic and competitive. Along with the team's 50-11 shellacking of the Edmonton Eskimos in 1990, the Blue & Gold made it to the Grey Cup in 1992 and 1993, adding another first-place finish to their belt in 1994.
The year 2000 brought numerous positive changes to the football club and the new slogan "Game Day We All Play" became a fitting theme.
The club recruited new faces into the boardroom and onto the field upon entering the 21st century. Lyle Bauer - a key player in the 1984, 1988 and 1990 championship teams - became President and Chief Executive Officer of the Winnipeg Football Club.
Under head coach Dave Ritchie, the 2000 Winnipeg Blue Bombers' team included shining stars such as quarterback Khari Jones, receivers Milt Stegall, Robert Gordon and CFL Rookie of the Year Albert Johnson III. Rookie linebacker Ryland Wickman also proved himself a force to be reckoned with.
The team made it to the post season for the first time in four years and won their first playoff game in six years. The new Blue Bomber team had a competitive spirit that made the rest of the CFL stand up and take notice. Winnipeg fans and sponsors also took notice and increased their support as the season progressed. Attendance jumped and corporate sponsorship hit an all-time high.
The 2001 season was a continuance of that positive momentum. With rookie Charles Roberts coming onboard, the team returned to the Grey Cup after posting a club-best 14-4 mark and tying a CFL record with 12 consecutive wins.
Jones established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in Bomber history that season. He was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player, the first time a Bomber won the award in 14 seasons, and was a CFL all-star.
Off the field, tickets sales jumped again and corporate sponsorship set another record. The club also erased $3.4-million in debt off its books.
The Bombers also had the CFL's Most Outstanding Player in their lineup in 2002. Stegall was named the league's top player after hauling in 105 passes for 1,862 yards and 23 TDs that season. His 23 scores in a season set a new league record.
Since 2002, the upward trend has continued. The football club's debt is nearly gone and it could be eliminated as early as 2006.
The 2004 season saw Jim Daley take over as interim head coach leading the team to a 5-6 record in the last 11 games of the season.
Daley was named head coach following that season and hired several experienced assistants to round out his coaching staff including Mike Gibson, Dave Easley and Rod Rust.
Although the club struggled on the field in 2005, there were some positives. Defensive end Gavin Walls was the West Division nominee for CFL Rookie of the Year; Charles Roberts led the league in rushing; and slotback Milt Stegall led the CFL in receiving TDs and set a new league record for career TD receptions.
The winds of change swept through the Bomber offices heading into 2006. Daley was relieved of his duties as head coach following the team's 5-13 finish, forcing G.M. Brendan Taman to look for a new head coach. That search resulted in the hiring of Doug Berry in December 2005.
The 2006 season was one to remember for the Winnipeg Football Club and its fans. First-year head coach Doug Berry and his staff guided the team to a 9-9 record and its first playoff appearance in three years.
Several players had notable seasons including receiver Milt Stegall, who continued his march towards the CFL record for all-time touchdowns scored. He finished 2006 just two TDs away from setting a new CFL standard. Meanwhile, running back Charles Roberts topped the league in rushing yards and carries yet again while linebacker Barrin Simpson led the CFL in defensive tackles in his first year with the football club.
The 2006 season wrapped up in grand style, with Winnipeg playing host to the 94th annual Grey Cup. The B.C. Lions defeated the Montreal Alouettes 25-14 before approximately 45,000 fans on Nov. 19 at Canad Inns Stadium. The game featured a sizzling halftime performance by Canadian performing artist Nelly Furtado.
The Big Blue continued to build on that momentum in 2007. With a strong nucleus of returning veterans like Kevin Glenn, Charles Roberts, Derick Armstrong and Milt Stegall on offence and Doug Brown, Tom Canada, Barrin Simpson and Gavin Walls on defence, the team rolled to a 10-7-1 regular season record and finished second in the CFL’s East Division.
They continued to roll during the CFL post-season. The Bombers beat the Montreal Alouettes 24-22 in the East Division Semi-final, played Nov. 11 in front of an enthusiastic hometown crowd at Canad Inns Stadium. That victory earned them a berth in the East Final, played Nov. 18 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. The Bombers earned their second straight playoff victory, knocking off the host Toronto Argonauts 19-9 to advance to the Grey Cup for the first time since 2001.
Despite missing quarterback Kevin Glenn, who suffered a broken arm in the previous week’s victory over the Toronto Argonauts, the Eastern Division champion Bombers fought the archrival Saskatchewan Roughriders down to the final whistle in the 2007 Grey Cup. Winnipeg led the game 14-13 midway through the third quarter before Saskatchewan pulled ahead en route to a 23-19 victory.
Two longtime Bombers enjoyed record-breaking performances in ’07.
On July 27 against Hamilton, receiver Milt Stegall established a new CFL record for career touchdowns, surpassing the mark previously shared by former CFL legends George Reed and Mike Pringle. He grabbed a one-yard shuttle pass from QB Kevin Glenn at 8:17 of the second quarter for the 138th TD of his storied career. He finished the season with 144 career touchdowns.
Running back Charles Roberts became the team’s all-time leading rusher on a 13-yard carry on Sept. 2 versus the Saskatchewan Roughriders at Mosaic Field in Regina. The record was previously held by Leo Lewis, who finished his Bomber career with 8,861 rushing yards. Roberts finished the season with 7,861 career rushing yards.
Roberts and Stegall weren’t the only Blue Bombers to receive individual acclaim in ’07. They along with QB Kevin Glenn, receivers Derick Armstrong and Terrence Edwards, offensive linemen Alexandre Gauthier and Dan Goodspeed, defensive linemen Doug Brown and Tom Canada and linebacker Barrin Simpson were all named East Division All-Stars. Roberts, Edwards, Armstrong, Goodspeed, Brown and Simpson were also named to the CFL All-Star Team. In addition, Glenn was runner-up for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player Award while Goodspeed and Brown were runners-up for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman and Most Outstanding Canadian Awards respectively.
The Bombers also enjoyed one of their most successful seasons off the field in ’07. The team enjoyed five consecutive sellout crowds to begin the season and Bomber merchandise was one of the hottest tickets in town.
The 2008 Blue Bombers got into the win column on July 24 when they hosted eventual Grey Cup Champion Calgary Stampeders. Quarterback Ryan Dinwiddie found Romby Bryant in the endzone with 12 seconds remaining to lift the home to a 32-28 victory.
The Bombers finished the season with six wins in their final eight games and an 8-10 record, good for second place in the CFL’s East division.
The Bombers hosted the Edmonton Eskimos on Nov. 8, in the East semi-final in front of 27, 493 brave fans who faced the elements. Winnipeg led the game 15-10 midway through the second quarter, but the Eskimos moved ahead and defeated the Bombers 29-21 to advance to the East final.
The 2008 season saw the emergence of one young running back, and the power of another. Following a tough loss in the annual Labour Day Classic in Regina, the Bombers acquired running back Joe Smith. Smith instantly became a threat in the Winnipeg backfield, coupling with East Division all-star running back Fred Reid to form a duo known as ’thunder and lightning’. In only eight starts, Reid carried the ball 101 times for 709 yards and an incredible seven yards-per-carry average.
Milt Stegall, arguably the best and most popular player in franchise history, ended his amazing 14-year career with the Bombers as the CFL’s all-time touchdown leader. He played in 199 career games with the Bombers, 10 playoff games and two Grey Cups.
The 2009 season was an up and down one for the Blue Bombers. Following a tough loss on the road in Edmonton to start the season, the Bombers returned home to host the defending champion Calgary Stampeders. The Blue and Gold sent the home opener crowd home happy, defeating the Stamps 42-30.
One bright spot was the play of running back Fred Reid. Reid finished 2009 second in the league in rushing, while setting a new franchise record for rushing yards in a game on August 21, 2009 at B.C., when Reid ran for an amazing 260 yards. The Blue and Gold won the game 37-10.
The 2009 season saw the emergence of receiver Adarius Bowman. Bowman, acquired in an offseason trade with the Riders, finished the season with a team lead 925 yards and six touchdowns. Bowman’s biggest game of 2009 came on Oct 12 at Hamilton, when he hauled in ten receptions for 213 yards and two touchdowns.
The 2009 Most Outstanding Player for the Blue Bombers was cornerback Jovon Johnson. Johnson, in his second year with the club, came into his own and proved he is a shutdown corner as well as a major return threat. Johnson returned one missed field goal for a touchdown and a punt for a touchdown, as well as recording six points on an interception return. He helped the Blue and Gold to a 7-11 season, however the club missed the postseason for the first time since 2005.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers entered a new era in 2010 – also the 80th anniversary of the franchise. In an effort to go younger at a number of key positions, General Manager Joe Mack brought in a ton of young talent to compete during training camp. While the end result would ultimately lead to a disappointing 4-14 record, the building blocks for the future were put in place.
The emergence of rookies Deon Beasley and Alex Suber in the secondary, linebacker Marcellus Bowman, receivers Terence Jeffers-Harris and Greg Carr and offensive linemen Andre Douglas and Kelly Butler gave the city of Winnipeg something to look forward to for years to come.
On top of that, fourth-year Bomber Terrence Edwards enjoyed the most successful year of his career finishing with 1,372 yards and 12 touchdowns while running back Fred Reid captured the rushing title with 1,396 yards for the first time in his career. Defensive end Phillip Hunt became the first Bomber to lead the league in sacks with 16 since Angelo Snipes did so in 1996.
Despite their record, the 2010 season was chalked full of promise. The Blue Bombers set a new CFL record for nine losses by four points or less and another by a touchdown which meant that this edition of the Blue and Gold was one that would never give up and would always compete.
Highlights from the season included the 31-2 thrashing of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the annual Banjo Bowl as well as the 21-point comeback victory against the BC Lions on Thanksgiving.
Despite not making the playoffs for the second year in a row, the seeds were planted in 2010 for what would be a memorable 2011 season.
At the beginning of the 2011 season, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers shot out to a very impressive 7-1 start and had first place in the East Division in their sights. Despite the striong start, Winnipeg did have its fair share of challenges to deal with, most notably the passing of longtime assistant coach, Richard Harris shortly after practice on Tuesday, July 26th - two days before the Bombers were to take on the BC Lions.
Harris had been a member of the coaching staff since 2006 and was by all accounts a devoted Winnipegger. He had also just been given the title of Assistant Head Coach prior to the season which showed just how much repect the organization had for him. Two days following his sudden death, the Bombers played an inspiring game and defeated the Lions 25-20.
2011 was also very successful off the field as the Winnipeg Football Club set new records with eight consecutive sell-outs and a record number of season tickets sold.
The Blue Bombers clinched first place in the East during the final week of the regular season and played host to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in frigid temperatures in what would be the final game ever at Canad Inns Stadium in the East Final. The Blue Bombers showed the country why no team should ever want to play in Winnipeg in the cold as they defeated the TiCats 19-3, winning the East Division for the first time since 2007.
The second year of the Joe Mack/Paul LaPolice regime ended with an appearance in the 99th Grey Cup where the Blue Bombers lost to the BC Lions by a score of 34-23.