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HOF induction bittersweet for Bluto

North End-raised Chris Walby recalls year of ’88

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Joe Poplawski (back) looks on as (from left) Willard Reeves, Frank Robinson and Chris Walby pose for a picture prior to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony in November, 2010,  which included the1984 Winnipeg Blue Bombers team. The Bombers’ 1988 roster — which Walby was also on — is being inducted into the Hall this year.

PHOTO BY JOHN WOODS/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Joe Poplawski (back) looks on as (from left) Willard Reeves, Frank Robinson and Chris Walby pose for a picture prior to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony in November, 2010, which included the1984 Winnipeg Blue Bombers team. The Bombers’ 1988 roster — which Walby was also on — is being inducted into the Hall this year. Photo Store Photo Store

The Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame announced its 2014 inductees on July 15, a list that included the 1988 Winnipeg Blue Bombers team that took home the Grey Cup.

Though he was on hand for the announcement, the ’88 win is a bit bittersweet for Chris Walby. The nine-time Canadian Football League all-star and two-time Most Outstanding Lineman injured his knee in the East Division semi-final against Hamilton, which sidelined him for the East final versus Toronto and the Grey Cup game against the BC Lions.

"It’s one of my pet peeves. If you don’t play in the Grey Cup game, even though you get a ring, your name will not be put on the Cup," said Walby, 57, who was previously inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 2006 and in 2010 as part of the 1984 Grey Cup champion Bombers team.

"I was on the sidelines going nuts because there’s no worse feeling than feeling like you’re helpless. It’s the first time I missed any games, so for me it was a new experience. You still want to be in there and your mind still thinks you’re in the game. But, it was still great to be on the sidelines and be part of it and watch the guys play so hard, just a great victory by the team."

The ’88 Bombers captured the 76th Grey Cup — played at Frank Clair Stadium in Ottawa — with a 22-21 win over the Lions.

In addition to big Bluto being on the bench, the championship win is made all the more impressive considering the Bombers sported a 9-9 regular season record, losing its final three games heading into the playoffs.

Walby, who grew up in the North End and played high school ball with the St. John’s Tigers, said the ’88 Blue and Gold were built to last.  

"We had a lot of characters on that team," said Walby, who currently resides in North Kildonan.

"One thing about Cal Murphy (then Bombers general manager) was he had a lot of veterans on the team. We had a lot of guys who had been through winning seasons and losing seasons, but they’d been together for a great number of years. We knew if we could get it back on track, anything is possible. If you get on a roll, that’s all that matters."

Walby, a three-time Grey Cup champion (1984, 1988 and 1990), said Bombers wide receiver James Murphy and punter Bob Cameron were the stars of the ’88 Cup game, named Most Valuable Player on Offence and Most Valuable Canadian respectively. Walby also singles out quarterback Sean Salisbury and defensive players Mike Gray, Stan Mikawos and Bennie Thompson.

"We had some studs on that team," Walby said.

Walby, who currently co-hosts a Bombers pregame show on TSN Radio 1290, said the 2014 Bombers look pretty studly as well,  but noted it’s always too close to tell in the CFL.

"If you look at the Grey Cup champions BC Lions from a couple years ago, they started 0-5," Walby said. "Everybody had written them off and they end up winning the Grey Cup at home, so it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish."

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