July 20th, 2024

Will the Bombers carry on a great tradition on Grey Cup Sunday

By Lethbridge Herald on November 16, 2023.

Graham Kelly



For the first time in their glorious history the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will appear in the Grey Cup for the fourth straight year. It is a rare accomplishment.  Edmonton with coach Hugh Campbell and players like Tom Wilkenson, Dave Cutler, Warren Moon and Dan Kepley set the gold standard with six straight, 1977-‘82, five wins.  The Hamilton Ti-Cats turned the trick five times with the greatest defences(Angelo Mosca, John Barrow, Garney Henley) to ever grace a Canadian gridiron, 1961-‘65, two wins. The Regina Roughriders also made it to the big game on five occasions. 1928-‘32,  no wins. Their coach was the Silver Fox, Al Ritchie who didn’t come home empty handed, having coached the Regina Pats to the Canadian Junior Football Championship a week later in 1928.

      Sunday will mark the 28th appearance overall of the Blue Bombers, nee Winnipegs, the most in CFL history. Edmonton is second,25, Toronto third, 24. They have won twelve Grey Cups, second to Toronto’s 18 and Edmonton’s 14.

     Thje Winnipeg Tammany Tigers carried the city’s colours into the Grey Cup for the first time in 1925, a 24-1 loss to Ottawa. The Winnipegs, forerunner of today’s team,  won the West’s first Cup 10 years later by defeating the powerful  Tigers 18-12. In the rain, on a muddy Hamilton field, Fritizie Hanson, dubbed the Whirlwind from the West,  dazzled the 6405 spectators in attendance by running for over 300 yards on seven returns, including a 78 yarder for a touchdown. Because statistics weren’t kept then, Hanson isn’t credited with any Grey Cup records but the man holding the record Jovon Johnson had 118 yards in the 2011 game. 

     Hanson played in five more Grey Cups with the newly named Blue Bombers, winning four, including his last with Calgary in 1948.

    Hanson was the first in a long line of running backs who have been critical to team success over the years. Between 1949 and ‘55 it was Dr. Tom “Citation’ Casey who was a member of the 1950 and ‘53 Grey Cup teams led by “Indigenous Person” Jack Jacobs. Then came Gerry James who played 11 seasons, winning three of five GC games. One was a loss to Hamilton in 1957 when he fumbled four times deep in Ti-Cat territory.  Later it was discovered he played most of the game with a broken hand.  He also suited up for the Toronto Maple Leafs, sometimes on the same week-end. His team mates were Leo “the Lincoln Locomotive” Lewis and Charlie”Choo Choo” Shepard all part of the Bud Grant dynasty in the ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties.  

    Lewis is tenth on the CFL All-time rushing list.  He was the MVP of the 1962 Fog Bowl Grey Cup. Although he won four Cups and is considered one of the greatest of all-time, he never won a rushing title or a league award. “I came up when Edmonton had those great ballplayers. There was no doubt that Jackie Parker and Johnny Bright were outstanding.  Any other time I might have won an award.” Coming to Winnipeg changed his life.  “In the mid-fifties NFL, individuals from small black colleges did not have much of an opportunity to play pro ball. I think Canada was a great place.”

      The next great Winnipeg running back was Willard Reaves who  won the Most Outstanding Player Award in 1984, along with the Grey Cup that year. He was the CFL rushing leader three years in a row. Charles Roberts won three titles, 2003, ‘05, ‘06. Other great ones included  Jim Washington, Robert Mimbs, Mike Richardson and, of course,  Andrew Harris who returned to his hometown in 2016 after starring with the Lions.  He won the 2017, ’18,’19 rushing titles. In the 2019 Grey Cup, he picked up 169 total yards and scored two touchdowns. He won   the Grey Cup MVP and Most Valuable Canadian awards, the first in Grey Cup history to do so. Along with his two championships in Winnipeg, he won rings with B.C. and Toronto. 

    His successor is another hometown boy,  Brady Oliveira, the 2023 rushing leader with 1534 yards and the  winner of this year’s Most Outstanding Canadian Award.     

     In 1935,  Whirlwind Fritzie Hansen led Winnipeg and the West to its first Grey Cup played in Hamilton.  Will  Brady Oliveira continue that great tradition  on Sunday?   

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