ONE of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers' greatest linebackers, James West, is back in Winnipeg to pay tribute to a dear friend and bid farewell to the old stadium.
"My heart still bleeds Blue Bombers blue," said the 54-year-old West, who paid a visit to Canad Inns Stadium during Tuesday's Bombers practice. "I played in Winnipeg for nine years. For some guys, that's a career. I was fortunate to play for the Blue Bombers for nine years."
West, a two-time CFL all-star and two-time Grey Cup winner, is in Winnipeg for the CFL Hall of Fame weekend, which includes the induction of Tyrone Jones, West's former Bombers linebacking corps teammate and one of his best friends. Jones, who died of brain cancer on June 10, 2008 at 46, will be inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame this weekend.
"I'm here for Tyrone," said West, who played for the Bombers in 1985-1992. Jones played for the Bombers in 1983-87 and 1989-91. Together, the pair won the 1990 Grey Cup with the Bombers while West was also part of the 1988 Grey Cup champion Bombers.
"Tyrone was like an 111/2, man (on a one-to-10 scale). Tyrone was born for this game. He was tenacious, he was a pest, he was annoying but boy was he good!" West said, laughing. "We were synonymous with each other. If you saw one, you saw the other. If he went somewhere, I was going to have his back."
The Hall of Fame weekend will include introductions of the inductees on Saturday at halftime of the Bombers-Montreal Alouettes game and the induction dinner Saturday night at the Winnipeg Convention Centre.
West, nicknamed Wild West, and Jones were part of a Bombers defence that is legendary for its ferocious pass rush, relentless energy and gregarious personalities.
"It's so many memories. We always knew that we were going to be successful," said West, who makes his home in Atlanta where he works for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
"We had so much confidence, we were beaming with confidence. Our biggest challenge was just with each other. We were so competitive. We used to compete about everything. On and off the field. On the field when we played, it was "I got more sacks than you, I've got more tackles than you or the fans are cheering louder for me."
West said the real secret to success of the Blue Bomber teams of his time was a combination of great leadership in the general manager and coaching roles as well as veteran players.
"We had great leadership. Either it was Paul Robson and Cal Murphy or Cal Murphy and Dave Ritchie or Mike Riley or Urban Bowman," West said. "We always had a good influence of veteran players and they held everybody accountable. The people at the top pretty much just coached because we as the players, we handled everything on and off the field. We hung out together, when somebody got out of line, we handled that. We really didn't get into trouble. If we got into trouble, it was with us (each other)."
West pointed to the Bombers' locker-room door. "If we had a problem, we solved it inside those doors," West said.