Leo Lewis, one of the greatest running backs in Winnipeg Blue Bombers history, passed away on Friday at age 80.
Nicknamed the "Lincoln Locomotive", Lewis rushed for 8,861 yards during a stellar 11-year CFL career. Lewis’s rushing records stood for 41 years before being eclipsed by Charles Roberts in 2007.
Lewis was also a member of four Bombers Grey Cup winning teams: 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1962.
Lewis passed away peacefully at his home in Missouri.
Born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1933, Lewis attended Lincoln University, where he still holds school records for touchdowns in a season (22), touchdowns in a career (64), rushing yards in a season (1,239) and career rushing yards (4,357).
Lewis signed with the Blue Bombers out of college, and subsequently became a six-time all-star. He was named to the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame in 1973, and inducted into the Bombers Hall of Fame in 1984. In 2005, Lewis was named to the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
"He was a quarterback’s best friend," said former Blue Bomber great Ken Ploen, in a biography of Lewis on the Manitoba Hall of Fame website. "It didn’t matter what you asked him to do, he’d do it to the best of his ability. He was there all the time. He never complained. He was a true professional."
Lewis was considered a hybrid of his era, both powerful and elusive.
Legendary Bomber head coach Bud Grant, who went on to become head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, considered Lewis the best player he ever coached, in either league. Lewis was voted one of the CFL’s top 50 players (#29) in a poll conducted by TSN.
In a press release sent late Friday, Winnipeg Blue Bombers acting CEO Wade Miller added his thoughts on Lewis. "It is with deep sadness that we have to say goodbye to one of our great alumni, especially one of legendary stature like Leo Lewis," said Miller. "I remember my dad telling me stories of playing with Leo with the Blue Bombers and what an amazing running back he was. He will forever remain one of the best players to ever suit up in Blue and Gold and our hearts go out to his family during this difficult time."
Long-time Winnipeg sports columnist Jack Matheson added, of Lewis: "He was the best football player we ever had."
After a knee injury finished his career in 1966, Lewis returned to the University of Lincoln where he spent more than thirty years coaching and teaching.
"I really enjoyed Winnipeg," Lewis said in his bio. "I enjoyed the people. They made me feel like I was home."
One of Lewis’s three sons, Marc, went on to play for both the Ottawa Rough Riders and the Calgary Stampeders. Another son, Leo Lewis III, played for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.