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Ah, the good old days, like the 1988 Grey Cup season

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 1/11/2013 (1362 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They are greyer at the temples now and perhaps a little thicker around the midsection.

But members of the 1988 Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers -- gathered here this week for a 25th anniversary reunion of their title -- have not lost any of their zeal for life and spinning yarns... especially if it details any chapter of their championship, the ninth in franchise history.

James Murphy

James Murphy

"Man, I'll tell you this has been fantastic," said Canadian Football League and Blue Bomber Hall of Famer James Murphy Friday, not long after a luncheon at Investors Group Field to honour the old gang. " To think that after 25 years the personalities don't change... they get bigger, the stories get better. It's like being on a fishing trip."

The '88 Bombers were hardly considered championship material as the campaign opened, or as it unfolded. After 1987 -- featuring one of the greatest collections of Bombers never to win a championship -- the club began anew without Tom Clements, Willard Reaves and Scott Flagel, among others.

The Bombers would limp home at the end of the '88 regular season with three straight losses before knocking off Hamilton and Toronto in the playoffs to set up a finalé with the B.C. Lions in Ottawa. And in the Grey Cup, Winnipeg would not grab the lead until under three minutes remained. Making the ending more dramatic was Michael Gray's interception of a Matt Dunigan pass -- dubbed the "Immaculate Interception" -- that preserved a 22-21 lead.

What made the '88 team special?

"We had great coaches and great leadership all the way up to the management side," said linebacker James West. "In any corporation, when you have great leadership it filters down. That gave us security in the knowledge all we had to do was play football. We had fun because of that.

"And then in the midst of all that, we looked out for each other. You never heard the stories coming out of the Bombers -- some of the stuff we did then would be national news now -- because we kept it in the locker-room. Later on it became jokes, like the stories we've been telling now at this reunion.

"But the competition didn't come from our opponents, it came from ourselves. We were always trying to outshine each other. It wasn't negative, it translated into something good.

"I'll tell you... if you interviewed every one of these guys you'd hear and see their leadership," added West. "(GM) Cal Murphy knew talent and how to find the kind of players he was looking for. You can see now how successful these guys are in whatever they are doing. All of them.

"Close your eyes and pick out any one of them and they are successful or impacting somebody's life. To me, that's amazing and it tells you how many quality people we had on that team."

On Thursday night 20 players from that team -- along with family of the late Steve Rodehutskors -- gathered to watch the '88 game in its entirety. And at the luncheon on Friday there were also video messages from Gray, head coach Mike Riley and linebacker Greg Battle -- all of whom weren't able to attend the reunion.

"That was awesome to watch that game again," said Murphy. "You know what the score's going to be, but still all that emotion and feeling comes back. That last hurrah, with Mike Gray's interception and when everybody was screaming and yelling and clapping... that was unbelievable.

"We had that chemistry around us. When the stakes got higher, the guys knew what time it was. There was a lot of turnover from '87 to '88, but there were a lot of guys around then who all had the same characteristic: We never missed the playoffs in our days as Bombers."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait


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