The odder, the better Committed CFL collector in it for the cachet, not the cash
Read this article for free:
Already have an account? Log in here »
To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:
All-Access Digital Subscription
$1.50 for 150 days*
- Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
- Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
- Access News Break, our award-winning app
- Play interactive puzzles
*Pay $1.50 for the first 22 weeks of your subscription. After 22 weeks, price increases to the regular rate of $19.00 per month. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled after the first 22 weeks.
Glen Ominski, a Winnipeg Blue Bombers season ticket holder since 1972, tells anybody willing to listen that his favourite team, bar none, is the Blue and Gold. His second favourite? Whatever squad is lined up against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
We want to believe him, except if that’s truly the case, what in the Sam, uh, Rod Hill is he doing, with a green-and-white Saskatchewan jersey slung over the back of his living room couch, for all to see?
There’s an interesting story behind that, says Ominski, 63, whose personal collection of Canadian Football League memorabilia, which includes said ’Riders uniform, is as impressive as a Zach Collaros spiral.
In 1972, Ominski entered a contest sponsored by a local moving company that invited participants to predict the lineup for that season’s CFL all-star team. His ballot won, and for placing first, he was allowed to choose any player jersey he desired.
As much as he adored the Bombers, he also respected Saskatchewan’s star running back George Reed, who’d been a thorn in Winnipeg’s side since the day he broke into the league, in 1963. So when it came time to pick, he opted for Reed’s No. 34 jersey, the very one currently lying next to him. (B.C. sucks, that’s true, but he also owns a Lions jersey, one from the Stampeders, another from the Argonauts… you get the picture.)
“A couple of years back, a buddy of mine let me know he was going to a cards-and-collectibles show in Regina, and that George Reed would be one of the guests there, signing autographs,” says Ominski, who formerly served on the Bombers’ volunteer board of directors. “I asked if he’d mind bringing my (Reed) jersey with him to get signed, which he did. The reason it still looks brand new is that was one of the few times I’ve had it out, in the last 50 years.”
Ominski’s bent for nabbing anything and everything associated with the three-down game goes all the way back to 1969, when, as an 11-year-old, he took an after-school job delivering copies of the Winnipeg Tribune to his North End neighbours. On occasion, he and his fellow carriers were treated to a free Saturday morning movie, before which they were often greeted by a member of the Blue Bombers, who had been invited by the Tribune brass, to chat with the kids and hand out 8-by-10s of themselves in action.
“This one, for example, is autographed, ‘To Glen, from your pal, Joe Critchlow,’” Ominski says, holding out a photo of the Missouri native, who anchored the Bombers’ defensive line for five seasons, from 1969 to 1973. He has others signed by the likes of Don Jonas, Paul Williams and Bob LaRose, and that’s definitely where “all of this” started, he says, waving his hand past a dining room table laden with “a billionth” of his possessions.
Ominski, a father of two and grandfather of one, has mementoes dating back to his days sitting in the Salisbury House section of the old stadium, game-day programs and such, but his collection really picked up steam in the 1990s. His son Ben, who was born in 1988, the year the Bombers won the Grey Cup for the second time in five seasons, was a big fan of Spider-Man. The two of them began spending time together on the computer, checking out online auction sites for Spidey paraphernalia and CFL treasures.
The odder the better, Ominski says, when asked what he goes after, to this day. To prove his point he points out a cardboard lunchbox fans were given on their way into the 1972 Grey Cup game in Hamilton, which he deems a “cheap souvenir, but priceless” to him. He also cites a Blue Bombers lamp that admittedly “looks like hell” but still functions, and an assortment of goods stored in an oversized, plastic tote marked “food.”
Excuse us, food?
That would be unopened boxes of Fantuz Flakes, for ex-Roughriders and Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver Andy Fantuz, and bags of Buck’s BBQ Chips, featuring the mug of former Bombers QB Buck Pierce, currently a member of the reigning Grey Cup champs’ coaching staff. Don’t bother asking how the salty treats taste. He wouldn’t dream of cracking a bag open.
The bulk of Ominski’s cache is split between a main-floor bedroom, where a Bombers welcome mat greets visitors, and a basement man cave. Downstairs is where he keeps the very east-side seats he and his wife Julie sat in at Canad Inns Stadium for years. Just past those is a wall display boasting bobblehead dolls, team tumblers and, most impressively, a few dozen game-worn helmets, including ones from defunct units such as the Sacramento Goldminers and Las Vegas Posse.
What’s interesting is how seemingly small the majority of them are, he says, passing over a lid signed by CFL icon Mike (Pinball) Clemons.
“Yeah, but it’s not like you have a tiny head, exactly,” Julie says with a wink, to which her husband responds, “That is true.”
The most unique item down there? That is, besides a CFL piggy bank, a TSN broadcaster’s sideline jacket or a Bombers transistor radio? (Hold the latter to your ear and you can almost hear the dulcet tones of Bob Irving.) That would undoubtedly be a certified player’s contract, bearing the signature of former Montreal Alouettes receiver and kick returner, Johnny Rodgers, who, some may recall, modestly branded himself an “ordinary superstar.”
Trevor Arnold is head of sales for AJ Sports, a Toronto-based enterprise specializing in authenticated, autographed sports memorabilia. Hockey is king in Canada, there’s no arguing that, he says, but he quickly adds that the Canadian Football League definitely has its devotees, when it comes to collectibles.
“Like any other sport, there are certain players fans relate to more than others,” Arnold continues. “Milt Stegall and Anthony Calvillo may have retired years ago but with guys like them, out of sight definitely doesn’t mean out of mind. I could sell their stuff, all day, every day.”
“Ninety-nine per cent” of those inquiring about CFL keepsakes are Canadian, he admits, but his firm does field the odd request from football nuts south of the border. Not long ago he shipped a jersey signed by Tracy Ham, who called signals for Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal during a 12-year, CFL career, to a person living in Georgia, where Ham played college football.
“As well, there are still some diehard, Baltimore Stallions fans out there,” Arnold says, referring to the sole American-based team to ever hoist the Grey Cup. “They were only around for two years (1994 and 1995) so it’s always interesting when those type of requests come in.”
Back in his living room, Ominski says officially licensed stamps, coins and pin-back buttons are great fun to seek out. What he cherishes most, mind you, are the personal relationships he forged with players and coaches, when he was on the board of directors.
“You hear the cliché that professional athletes are arrogant idiots but that’s never been the case with the ones I’ve met. James Murphy? Wonderful fellow. Our ex-coach Jeff Reinebold? One of the nicest guys you’re ever going to meet. Cal Murphy? I can’t say enough complimentary things about the man.”
Oh, in case you’re wondering, while he is aware there is a monetary value attached to what he’s amassed, don’t expect him to part ways with his piles of player cards or boxes of wrist watches, any time soon.
“People ask what my collection’s worth and to me, that’s like asking a person driving an RV what their gas mileage is. That’s a dumb question because nobody in their right mind would buy (an RV) if they were worried about mileage. To me, my stuff is priceless, but it’s only worth as much as somebody is willing to pay,” he says, flipping the lid off a Zippo lighter bearing an Edmonton crest, to see if it still works. (It does!)
“Last week Julie and I were at a funeral and on the way out of the church, there was a table loaded with over a thousand salt-and-pepper sets, along with a sign reading, ‘Take as many as you want.’ I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that’s what’s going to end up happening with my stuff, too.”
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.