THE Banjo Bowl was born from a surprising remark and from that, the unexpected has been a common theme for the game.
An off-the-cuff comment about "banjo-picking inbreds" from Troy Westwood in 2003 was just the tonic -- not to mention the iconic moniker -- David Asper, sitting on the Bombers board of directors, needed to hatch a Manitoba-style celebration of football against its biggest rival.
The annual post-Labour Day Classic rematch between the Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders is entering its eighth go-around this year. How big is this game in Bomberville? Tickets go faster than any other on the schedule and it has been sold out every year since the 2005 season.
It is the single most important home game at Canad Inns Stadium, the one every fan -- and player -- has circled on their Bombers schedule.
"When these two provinces get together, it's a crazy atmosphere," veteran slotback Terrence Edwards said. "When I came here from Montreal (in 2007), I had no idea it was like this. I didn't know about the rivalry.
"This is crazy here."
As it stands, Winnipeg holds a slight 4-3 advantage in the annual grudge match at the old stadium. Most of the time, the games have been close. The final score has seen a four-or-less point differential four times, but the last two Banjo Bowls have been unexpected blowouts on both sides.
Let's start with the 2009 edition, which just so happened to be one of the worst losses the Bombers have ever had at home. Saskatchewan hammered Winnipeg 55-10 in a game that wasn't so much lopsided as it was embarrassing for the home side. Bombers defensive end Gavin Walls summed it up best in his post-game eulogy: "I almost want to walk out of here with a bag on my head."
Winnipeg committed eight turnovers. The crowd, understandably frustrated, took out their displeasure on the Bombers and specifically coach Mike Kelly.
Twelve months later, with the club scuffling along on a 2-7 clip and quarterback Buck Pierce lost for the season, the Bombers entered the Banjo Bowl under different trying circumstances. The season was essentially lost but for this one afternoon, the Bombers defence announced its presence by not allowing any touchdowns or field goals by the visiting side.
The final score was an unexpected one: Bombers 31, Riders 2.
More importantly, it was a life preserver for the players in a brutal, frustrating season. "I tell people back home that it's like the big college rivalry -- that's how intense it is," Edwards added. "The Banjo Bowl is more than a game; it's about bragging rights for the next 364 days of the year."
NO one, near as we can tell, ever referred to Winnipeg/Canad Inns Stadium as "picturesque," a "cathedral" or a "grand ol lady."
It was never held in the same high regard as Yankee Stadium or the Montreal Forum or the Boston Garden -- sporting shrines every one of them -- or even revered or romanticized like Empire Stadium in Vancouver or Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium.
It was and remains, in one word, functional. And now the building's last days are upon us. The home of the Blue Bombers since 1953, the stadium will meet wrecking ball after this season as the football club moves into its' new home at the University of Manitoba to open the 2012 campaign.
There are potholes in the parking lot, leaks in the ceiling and coats upon coats of paint covering up some serious imperfections.
But the stadium has given its patrons some wonderful moments over close to six decades -- particularly in sports and entertainment -- and during this Bombers season the Free Press will revisit some of the more memorable moments and experiences housed in the old ball yard. Call it our farewell to the 58-year-old facility that has served so well.