IT’S a call that meant the world to Dave Ritchie, and one he’s been waiting a long time for.

IT’S a call that meant the world to Dave Ritchie, and one he’s been waiting a long time for.

Ritchie recently picked up the phone in his Rhode Island home and there was a fellow CFL coaching legend on the other line, Wally Buono.

<p>THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES/Ryan Remiorz</p><p>Dave Ritchie as Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach in 2001. Ritchie coached the Bombers from 1999 to 2004, taking the team to the Grey Cup in 2001 after a first-place finish in the East and 14-4 season.</p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES/Ryan Remiorz

Dave Ritchie as Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach in 2001. Ritchie coached the Bombers from 1999 to 2004, taking the team to the Grey Cup in 2001 after a first-place finish in the East and 14-4 season.

"So we’re talking and he says, ‘I have good news and bad news. What do you want first?’ And I said, ‘Give me the bad,’" Ritchie told the Free Press on Wednesday.

"He knows that I don’t particularly care for flying, so he says that I have to fly up to Canada. And then he says, ‘But here’s the good thing: it’s because you’re in the (Canadian Football Hall of Fame).’

"When he said that, I almost fell out of my chair."

It was officially announced on Tuesday that Ritchie will be enshrined in the CFHOF as a member of the 2022 induction class on Sept. 16 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. Ritchie and his class members will also be honoured the next day at halftime when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Ritchie had two coaching stints with the Bombers, first as a special teams assistant under head coach Mike Riley in 1990 — a year in which the Blue and Gold captured the Grey Cup. Ritchie would win another Grey Cup in 1994 as the head coach of the B.C. Lions. From there, Ritchie would go on to coach the Montreal Alouettes from 1997-98 before taking the reins with Bombers from 1999-2004. Ritchie’s best season as a head coach in Winnipeg came in 2001 when he guided the team to a 14-4 record and a spot in the Grey Cup game.

"I’m as excited as if I was going in. If you asked a lot of his former players, they’d say the same thing," said Bombers legend and hall of fame receiver Milt Stegall.

"… It’s unfortunate we couldn’t accomplish all of our goals, but we had a great time. The relationships that were formed and everything that happened was because of the atmosphere coach Ritchie created. It was great. I wish it could’ve lasted longer but that’s how the business goes. But coach Ritchie left a lasting legacy on a lot of individuals that will carry on for many years to come."

Stegall actually knew Ritchie long before they worked together in Winnipeg. Ritchie was working at his alma mater, the University of Cinncinnati, when Stegall was making a name for himself as a high school player in the area.

"Most folks don’t know this. I don’t think many people know this at all. When I was coming out of high school in Cincinnati, coach Ritchie was the defensive co-ordinator and his area for recruiting was the Cincinnati area. So, he was the one that was actually recruiting me to come to the University of Cincinnati," said Stegall.

"… I ended up picking Miami (Ohio) University and he always gives me flack about that."

Years later with the Bombers, it led to an annual bet between Ritchie and Stegall when Cincinnati would play Miami. The events that followed ended up being one of Stegall’s favourite memories of his old coach.

"We’d always bet that the loser would have to wear a dress. So, there was one time when coach Ritchie came into the meeting with a dress on. It wasn’t pretty, but he held up to his side of the bet," Stegall said with a laugh.

Ritchie’s 52-44-1 record during his time leading the Bombers puts him only behind Bud Grant (102), Cal Murphy (86) and Mike O’Shea (69) for wins in franchise history. Ritchie’s 108 career victories is seventh on the CFL’s all-time list. He spent 25 years in the CFL, winning his third and final Grey Cup in 2006 as the defensive coordinator for the Lions under Buono. In 2008, Ritchie moved on from the three-down league to coach in Europe.

It took longer than expected for Ritchie to get the call from the hall, but the 83-year-old has no complaints.

"I don’t even want to dwell on that because they have so many great people that they can put in there. From what I gather, a lot of great people have gone into that Hall of Fame. Sometimes patience is a virtue and I put my trust in the person up above," Ritchie said.

"Did I know it was going to come? No. Am I excited it came? Yes. I’m excited that in a few months I will be in Canada celebrating with all the players that made it possible and all the coaches that made it possible. It’s amazing."

And while Ritchie had numerous stops in his career, he will definitely have Winnipeg in mind on induction day.

"I had a great time in Winnipeg. I had a lot of very, very good players, especially the linebackers and the defensive backs that we had. They were unbelievable. And the defensive line was very, very good," said Ritchie.

"We won one Grey Cup and made a run at another one. So, it was great. It was super and I still have a lot of friends still there. Heck, I’ve had a couple hundred calls from people in Canada the last two days… All I can say about 25 years in Canada was that it was all positive. It was super."

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

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...