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One glorious night

It’s the greatest pro quarterback performance ever — but with scant tangible evidence, it’s left to fading memories

On July 14, 1994, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' Matt Dunigan obliterated the CFL’s single-game passing record by throwing for 713 yards in a 50-35 victory over the Edmonton Eskimos. But you really had to be there

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It started, oddly enough, with a run play. Two of them, in fact.

And then a punt.

It was just over 20 years ago — July 14, 1994, to be exact — when Matt Dunigan obliterated the Canadian Football League’s single-game passing record by throwing for 713 yards in a 50-35 Winnipeg Blue Bombers victory over the Edmonton Eskimos.

But on the first play from scrimmage on the night he would set a pro passing record that still stands, the veteran Bomber quarterback simply turned around and stuffed the ball into the belly of Blaise Bryant and then watched the nifty running back gallop for five yards.

And on second-and-five the play called for Bryant to carry again... only to see him fumble the ball and have it recovered by offensive lineman Chris Walby a yard short of the first-down marker.

Out trotted Bob Cameron to punt and, as a result, there was absolutely nothing to the start of the Bombers’ 1994 home opener that left anyone at Winnipeg Stadium believing a magical night was about to unfold.

Over the course of the next two and a half hours, Dunigan & Co. would eviscerate the Eskimos defence while establishing the new CFL passing mark, breaking the old mark of 601 set by Danny Barrett just 11 months earlier.

A dialed-in Dunigan would team up with both Alfred Jackson and David Williams so often both would smash the team’s single-game receiving yardage record. The Bombers would also amass 792 yards of total offence, another team record that still stands.

All that alone would make the 20th anniversary of the night worth reliving.

And yet for all the game’s individual and team accomplishments, there are some oddities — especially in today’s age of YouTube, specialty sports channels and social media — that make July 14, 1994 seem almost surreal or fictional.

First and foremost, even though the contest was a rematch of the 1993 Grey Cup it was not televised (not every game was then, even though TSN and CBC shared the rights).

It was also witnessed by fewer than 22,000 fans in Winnipeg’s old Polo Park-area stadium, even though the conditions were near-perfect (21 C, slight wind from the north at four kilometres per hour.).

There’s even more...

Finding statistical evidence of Dunigan’s achievement recently became a chase in itself. The Bombers don’t have a copy of the play-by-play stats sheet from the contest anywhere in their files. Neither do the Eskimos, the CFL or Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

(One was uncovered for this story, courtesy of the Bomber offensive coordinator for that game, Mike Kelly, from a box of his belongings while moving).

And so we’re left for the game’s 20th anniversary to be remembered and retold by digging into newspaper archives, by dusting off the statistical report and reminiscing with some of those who lived it, including the author of 713 himself.

Yet...

"Here’s the thing: pretty much most of my 14-year career is sketchy," begins Dunigan, the Canadian Football Hall of Famer whose memories are somewhat spotty courtesy of the effects of post-concussion syndrome.

"I tell people it’s like taking an Etch A Sketch: you can draw all over it and then when you shake it... that’s what happens to me when I try to remember my career. Reading back helps. So does looking at pictures and talking to people. That really helps fill in the blanks.

"But I do remember this about that game: we should have had 850 yards. That’s what I’ll always remember: the missed opportunities. We actually had quite a few mistakes that night, if you can believe it."

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