Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 30/3/2018 (623 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
James Murphy represents everything a city could ever want from a professional athlete.
For starters, he was a winner. Murphy helped the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to three Grey Cups, including an 1984 victory that ended the team's 22-year championship drought.
He was an elite talent. In his eight seasons with the Blue and Gold, he was named a league All-Star four times, named the 1988 Grey Cup MVP and won the CFL's Most Outstanding Player Award in 1986 after an incredible season where he hauled in 116 passes for 1746 yards and 12 touchdowns. When Murphy retired in 1990, his 61 touchdown receptions was a Blue Bombers franchise record.
Off the field, Murphy fully embraced the city of Winnipeg. Despite retiring from the game 28 years ago, Murphy, who grew up in sunny DeLand, Fla., has remained in Winnipeg ever since. Murphy ran Dockside 21 Seafood at The Forks for a decade after his playing career, and now works for the Manitoba Construction Sector Council promoting the trades industry to youth.
Life in Canada after football was something Murphy never expected when he made the trip up to Winnipeg 34 years ago; after all, he fully admits he knew "absolutely nothing" about Winnipeg before he arrived.
"I was flying on my way here for the first time and I'm looking down and I was looking for igloos," said Murphy about that trip to Winnipeg in 1982 after being released by the Minnesota Vikings (though he returned to the NFL to play one season with the Kansas City Chiefs).
"Seriously. I really thought there would be igloos and snow all over the place. Growing up in Florida, I didn't get the opportunity to hear a lot about Canadian history."
Murphy made a lasting impression on Bombers general manager, Paul Robson, when they first met in 1982. When Robson heard that Murphy was released by Kansas City prior to the '83 season, he reached out to the receiver and welcomed him back with open arms.
"I think I even cried thinking that 'You know what, there's too much politics in football. I really want to play, but how come I'm not getting an opportunity to play?' I knew I was better than some of the receivers they had (in Kansas City), but for some reason, things just weren't working out for me, so, I figured I'd come back to Winnipeg and give it my best shot, and that's what I did," said Murphy, who was primarily used as a kick returner in his lone season with the Chiefs.
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He might not have been an expert in Canadian history, but he was an expert in catching footballs. He didn't take long to flourish under the Canadian game, as Murphy racked up over 1000 yards in his first two seasons in the league.
"I wasn't a prototype receiver," Murphy said. "The Canadian Football League was a better game for me. It's a bigger and wider field, bigger ball, it was just a natural fit for me and that's why, when I got up here and started to play, things really worked out for me."
Murphy called it a career in 1990 after eight seasons in Winnipeg. He finished with 573 receptions, 9,036 receiving yards and 61 touchdown catches. Despite the Grey Cup victories and the impressive numbers, it's Milt Stegall that gets a lot of the attention in Bomberland, but for Murphy, he wouldn't trade his career with anyone.
"I get a lot of love in this city," said Murphy, who has people messaging him on social media all the time asking to get their number 21 jerseys autographed.
"People still recognize my name and when they see my name, they get a big ol' smile on their face. I know people that grew up in my era respect all my hard work and effort to make Winnipeg a winner."
Taylor Allen Reporter
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
Hall Call is a weekly podcast series hosted by Taylor Allen that shares the stories of local sport icons by interviewing members of the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
Taylor will talk to a new member every week, with a story featured in the Saturday edition of the Winnipeg Free Press and an hour-long podcast interview. The series can be found online at wfp.to/hallcall. You can also visit the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame inside the Sport for Life Centre building located at 145 Pacific Ave.
To hear more about James Murphy's career, including his first impression of Winnipeg, growing up in Florida, why he played college ball at Utah State, getting drafted by Bud Grant and the Minnesota Vikings, why the Kansas City Chiefs cut him, winning three Grey Cups, being named the CFL's Most Outstanding Player in 1986, Milt Stegall, living in Winnipeg after retiring, and much more — listen to the podcast.