Stuff of legend

Wild moments from Winnipeg's Grey Cup lore


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Forget the Grey Cup, because Sunday’s title game has already been dubbed the “Drought Bowl.”

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/11/2019 (1222 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Forget the Grey Cup, because Sunday’s title game has already been dubbed the “Drought Bowl.”

That’s because the Canadian Football League’s championship matchup in Calgary features the two teams with the longest current absences from the winner’s circle, namely our beloved Blue Bombers and the hated Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

The Bombers haven’t sipped champagne from the Cup since 1990 — Brian Mulroney was prime minister, Gary Filmon was premier, the GST became law, and Ghost was the hot movie — when they battered the Edmonton Eskimos 50-11 in Vancouver’s B.C. Place.

Winnipeg’s 28-year Cup drought is the longest futility streak in the nine-team league.

For the record, the Tiger-Cats’ last moment of glory came in 1999 — Jean Chrétien was PM, Nunavut became the newest territory, Eaton’s filed for bankruptcy and Star Wars: Episode I was doing boffo box office — when they topped Calgary 32-21 in Vancouver.

Which means the Bombers and Ticats are hunting for their first titles of the 21st century in the 107th Grey Cup, which also marks the first time the two clubs have faced each other for all the marbles since 1984, which was the year Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire while filming a Pepsi commercial.

The so-called Drought Bowl will be a memorable battle for both teams, and to fuel the fire, today’s hard-hitting list features Five Wild and Woolly Grey Cup Moments Blue Bombers Fans Should Never Forget:

5) The unforgettable game: The 23rd Grey Cup (Dec. 7, 1935)

The memorable moment: What was so important about the 23rd Grey Cup? It was the first time a team from the West won the CFL’s Holy Grail.

On Dec. 7, 1935, Winnipeg pulled it off when they punted the heavily favoured Hamilton Tigers (later dubbed the Tiger-Cats) 18-2 in front of 6,405 fans at Hamilton Amateur Athletic Association Grounds.

You probably think this was a great day for the Blue Bombers, right? Well, you could not be more wrong, because at the time, Winnipeg’s gridiron gang was known as the Winnipegs, or simply the Pegs. By most accounts, it wasn’t until training camp of the following year when the team adopted its modern name after legendary sportswriter (Uncle) Vince Leah famously declared “these are the Blue Bombers of western football.”

The West only started competing for the Cup in 1921, when the Edmonton Eskimos were hammered 23-0 by the Toronto Argonauts in the ninth Cup matchup. In 1935, Winnipeg likely won because it was one of the first clubs to import American college players, including future Hall of Famers such as star punt returner Fritz (Golden Ghost) Hanson, QB Russ Rebholz and receiver Greg Kabat. Hanson had 334 yards in punt returns and sealed the 1935 victory with a 78-yard return for a TD. The headline in the Free Press after the game screamed: “Zowie! ‘Pegs Win” and it captured the magic of the moment.

“In Winnipeg, fans huddled together listening to the game on the old big tube radios. But by game’s end they spilled out onto Portage Avenue in great celebration,” notes the website The Winnipeg Time Machine.

With the Cup in tow, nothing could go wrong for our heroes, right? Well, according to the website of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame: “When it came time for them to check out of their hotel in Hamilton, they found that they did not have enough cash to pay the bill. Les Isard, a club executive, came to the rescue.”

4) The unforgettable game: The 12th Grey Cup (Nov. 29, 1924)

The memorable moment: Chances are you probably haven’t heard about Winnipeg’s big Grey Cup victory in 1924. Want to know why not? It’s because (pardon us while we activate our keyboard’s caps lock feature) THEY DIDN’T EVEN BOTHER GOING TO THE (BAD WORD) GAME!

Historically speaking, Western Canada only started competing for the Cup in 1921. In 1924, the Winnipeg Victorias had an undefeated season — beating such mighty foes as the Winnipeg Tammany Tigers and the University of Manitoba Varsity. In the Western semifinal, the Victorias disposed of the Regina Roughriders 22-5. In the Western final, the home side knocked off the Alberta champions, Calgary 50th Battalion, 11-9. Which is how the Victorias became the first Winnipeg team to qualify for the national championship.

What happened next? Well, according to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame’s website: “The Winnipeg Victorias became embroiled in a massive dispute, which eventually prevented them from competing. They could not agree which railway to travel on; the players favoured CNR and the club executive chose CPR. The feud dragged on until the executive determined the club would forgo the contest. The players decided to go anyway, and the executive informed them they would not be allowed to use the team name.”

By the time things were ironed out, it was too late to go. For the record, in the 12th Cup game in 1924, Queen’s University defeated one of the more colourful squads in Canadian history, Toronto’s Balmy Beach Beachers, 11-3. (Says “The Beachers believed in having a good time and if they won the football game, that was a bonus.”)

“Queen’s became just the second team to win three consecutive Grey Cup titles,” the CFL’s website notes. “It would mark the end of an era for the Intercollegiate Union, as the students from Kingston were the last university team to win the coveted trophy.”

3) The unforgettable game: The 27th Grey Cup (Dec. 9, 1939)

The memorable moment: If you have ever been to a Grey Cup game, you can be sure of one thing: it’s going to be cold. That’s just the way it is in a country where playoff football involves bone-chilling weather that is better suited for polar bears than burly human beings.

This columnist can remember freezing his medically important parts at the 79th Grey Cup — the first held in Winnipeg — where Toronto beat Calgary 36-21 in the coldest Cup ever played, with the thermometer struggling to reach -17 C at kickoff.

And it was bitterly cold on Dec. 9, 1939, when the Blue Bombers squared off against the Ottawa Rough Riders in the 27th edition of the Cup at Lansdowne Park. It was so cold the night before the big game that Ottawa’s groundskeepers tried to warm the playing surface in a manner you are going to have a hard time believing. Here’s how the Bombers describe it on the team website: “Conditions were far from perfect and the field was rock hard. In an attempt to soften the turf, organizers poured 400 gallons of gasoline on the field and set it ablaze the day before the game. But freezing conditions overnight didn’t help those efforts.”

Yes, they set the field on fire. Safety tip: don’t try this at home, kids. Recalls “Sub-zero overnight temperatures rendered the field a frozen block by morning. The playing conditions were so bad at the 1939 Grey Cup, Ottawa was not allowed to host the championship again until 1967.”

The game itself was played against the backdrop of a world at war and Winnipeg managed to squeak by heavily favoured Ottawa 8-7 on a last-minute punt single by Art Stevenson, who crushed a kick into the stands with 45 seconds remaining. His last-gasp heroics gave the Winnipeg squad its second Cup championship — they won in 1935 when the team was known as the “Pegs” — but 1939 was the first national title under the name city fans have come to love: Blue Bombers.

2) The unforgettable game: The 76th Grey Cup (Nov. 27, 1988)

The memorable moment: Of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ 10 Grey Cup victories, the one in the 1988 championship game at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa was easily the most improbable. Six of the Bombers’ 10 Cup victories — and two of their losses — have involved the team they face this Sunday, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

In 1988, however, the Blue and Gold hung on by their fingernails to eke out a 22-21 upset victory in the title game over the favoured B.C. Lions. This nail-biter has gone down in history for two main reasons: it was the first in league history won by a team with a .500 record (the Bombers were 9-9 that year) and it was the first title game between two teams from west of Ontario.

The Lions were led by perennial all-star QB Matt Dunigan, whereas the man at the helm of the Bombers was a guy named Sean Salisbury. If that name sounds familiar, there’s a good reason. Along with helping the Bombers capture the Cup in 1988, Salisbury spent 12 years with ESPN in a high-profile broadcast career that went awry after he was suspended in 2006 for showing co-workers a cellphone photo of his genitals while in a Connecticut bar.

So nobody was betting on the Bombers, which made the victory all the more sweet.

The teams were knotted at 19-19 heading into the final quarter and the Bombers, who would manage just two first downs in the second half, took their first lead with 2:55 left on a 30-yard Trevor Kennerd field goal. Dunigan then marched the Lions 75 yards deep into Winnipeg territory to set up one of the most memorable plays in Bombers history.

“The Lions were second-and-goal from the Bombers seven-yard line with 1:45 left in the game when Dunigan dropped back, moved left and then rifled a pass attempt into the end zone intended for David Williams, but Delbert Fowler tipped the pass and it bounced into the arms of defensive end (and former Lion) Michael Gray, who took a few steps with the ball before dropping to the turf and cradling the ball,” recalls. “It was a play dubbed ‘The Immaculate Interception’ and it was massive in the club’s ninth Grey Cup title.”

The Bombers held on for the win. Gushed linebacker James (Wild) West: “That was so special for me because that was my first Grey Cup… Some of my best times were in Winnipeg, man, and that Grey Cup was by far my favourite one.”

1) The unforgettable game: The 45th Grey Cup (Nov. 30, 1957)

The memorable moment: Only a handful of Grey Cup stories become legendary. This one definitely fits that category. It’s the story of “The Trip,” and it’s typically told over a frosty beverage. And like so many remarkable Cup tales, it involves the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

It was Nov. 30, 1957, and the Bombers were battling the Tiger-Cats at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium in the 45th Cup — the first to be televised coast to coast — which means there were a lot of eyeballs looking on when arguably the most infamous event in Cup history took place.

It began when Hamilton defensive back Ray (Bibbles) Bawel intercepted a Winnipeg pass and had a clear path to the end zone. At least he did until fate intervened in the form of a beret-wearing spectator named David Humphrey, a 32-year-old defence lawyer and future Ontario judge, who stuck his foot out and tripped Bawel before he could score. Bawel jumped to his feet looking for someone to strangle.

The officials huddled and the referee penalized the Bombers half the distance to the goal line, a kind of compromise for an unprecedented intrusion.

Not surprisingly, drinking was involved. It turns out Humphrey got into the game without a ticket because he knew most of the officers working security. Once inside, he told the Globe and Mail in 2007, he ran into a former client who had completed his parole, so the two shared some whisky. The next person he met was the jury foreman in a first-degree murder case that sent Humphrey’s client to the Don jail, where he was hanged in 1956.

According to the Globe and Mail, the Winnipeg-Hamilton Cup was just days after the one-year anniversary of the hanging. “The foreman wanted to shake hands,” Humphrey recalled. “I wouldn’t. I was upset… The next thing I know I see this guy running for a touchdown. I was in such a state I stuck my foot out.”

After the historic trip, the tipsy prankster was allowed to walk out of the stadium without being arrested. He took a sideline chair with him.

It had zero effect on the game, a lopsided 32-7 win for the Ticats. As for the future judge, he eventually gave Bawel a watch with the inscription “Grey Cup 1957 from The Tripper.” And that’s how legends are born.

Doug Speirs

Doug Speirs

Doug has held almost every job at the newspaper — reporter, city editor, night editor, tour guide, hand model — and his colleagues are confident he’ll eventually find something he is good at.

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