Bombers ruled the field and the court
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This article was published 09/03/2022 (457 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Once Bud Grant took over as head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1957, the football club became a dominant force in the Canadian Football League. After losing the Canadian final to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Grant’s first season, the Blue and Gold won the Grey Cup four times in the next five years. The run was interrupted in 1960 when the Edmonton Eskimos upset the Bombers in the Western final. The score was 4-2 for Edmonton and that’s not a typo.
Some of the team′s American imports chose to remain in Winnipeg after the football season and find work to supplement their football incomes. In Canada, multi-sport athletes played baseball in the summer, football in the fall and hockey in the winter. In the States, the main winter sport was basketball. At the same time as the Bombers were successful on the football field, a Blue Bombers basketball team became a force on the local courts.
A team called Rae and Jerry’s Bombers entered the Greater Winnipeg Senior A League in the 1957-58 season. With Grant heading the lineup, the team had instant credibility. The Bombers coach had played college basketball for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Then, during the 1949-50 and 1950-51 seasons, the 6-foot-3 forward played 96 games for the Minneapolis Lakers of the NBA. The Lakers, who relocated to Los Angeles after the 1959-60 season, won the NBA championship in Grant’s first season. After he ended his pro basketball career, Grant spent two seasons in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles before coming north to join the Bombers.
In the playoffs, the basketball Bombers lost to the league champion Kodiaks in the semi-final. During that season, Buddy Tinsley, George Druxman, Norm Rauhaus, Gerry James, Ron Latourelle, Nick Miller, Gord Rowland, and Barry Rosebourgh all saw action. Glenn McWhinney was the playing coach. The following season, with imports Frank Rigney and Ernie Pitts strengthening the team, Rae and Jerry’s reached the league final, but lost to Kodiaks. The champions picked up Grant, Rigney and Miller for the Western final, but the trio were ruled ineligible due to their professional football status. Grant suggested that the $10 he paid to register nationally should be refunded.
In the 1959-60 season, the team known as the King’s Best Bombers beat St. Andrews three straight in the league final. New to the lineup were Kenny Ploen and Frank Gilliam, who both made the second all-star team, and Johnny Michels. Rigney was a first-team all-star. The next year, the Labatt’s sponsored team added Americans Ray Jauch and Farrell Funston and again won the championship. Ploen and Rigney were selected as first-team all-stars and Jauch and Grant made the second team. The Bombers were allowed to play in the Western championship but lost two straight to Lethbridge.
The Bombers championship run ended in the 1961-62 season when future Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame member Fred Ingaldson led IPAC Buffaloes to the league championship over St. Andrews, who had eliminated the defending champions. Grant finished second in league scoring behind Ingaldson. Import lineman Herb Gary played that season.
For the 1962-63 season, the league expanded to six teams including one from the Grand Forks air base. Jauch was elected league president. The Blues beat the first-place Buffaloes 85-79 in one semi-final and then knocked off St. Andrews 76-70 in the final. Grant with 23 points and Roger Hagberg with 17 played the full game. The two first-team all-stars got strong support from Jauch with 15 and Ploen with 11. Hagberg was a two-time high school conference basketball all-star in Minnesota who later played at the state university.
T. Kent Morgan
Memories of Sport
Memories of Sport appears every second week in the Canstar Community News weeklies. Kent Morgan can be contacted at 204-489-6641 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org