Sunday, 24 November 2019

Bombers’ Grey Cup win is a welcomed development

Videos of the Bombers’ Grey Cup wins in 1988 and 1990.
    The Winnipeg Blue Bombers actually won the Grey Cup?
    While never can be a long time, a Bombers Grey Cup win just seemed like something that would never happen again. You almost thought the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets had better odds of winning the Stanley Cup in a 31 team league that the Bombers would have in a nine team league.
    That was exactly what happened on Sunday at McMahon Stadium in Calgary, Alta. Playing before 35,439 spectators, the Bombers hammered the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 33-12 to become CFL champions for the first time in 29 years.
    In the win, a proud graduate of Winnipeg’s Oak Park High School Raiders football team in running back Andrew Harris picked up most outstanding player and most outstanding Canadian honours helping his hometown Bombers win the title.
    Harris ran the ball 18 times for 134 yards and one touchdown, and he caught five passes for 35 yards and one touchdown.
Andrew Harris (#33) became a Grey Cup hero for the Bombers.
    Online, emotion was pouring out from Bombers fans who couldn’t contain their joy as they were brought to tears they were so happy.
    It was weird to think that actually happened.
    Once upon a time, that wasn’t the case.
    Way back in 1990, the Bombers were guided by the tandem in general manager “Kindly” Cal Murphy and head coach “Smiling” Mike Riley. Both are still revered figures to this day in the Manitoba capital.
    Under their guidance, the Bomber topped the CFL standings that year with a 12-6 record and hammered the Edmonton Eskimos 50-11 to capture the Grey Cup at B.C. Place in Vancouver, B.C.
    It was joked the Grey Cup game that year was like a Super Bowl, as the NFL title games around that era were usually blowouts. The Bombers win in the 1990 Grey Cup goes down as one of greatest blowouts in the history of the CFL title game.
    The defense containing the likes of Greg Battle, Tyrone Jones, James West, Rod Hill and Less Browne hammered the Eskimos into submission.
A Tom Burgess player card.
    Bombers quarter back Tom Burgess, who was acquired in a trade with the Saskatchewan Roughriders before the 1990 campaign began, had an up and down season. Against the Eskimos in the 1990 Grey Cup, Burgess had one of his finest days in the league as he guided the Bombers offence like he was NFL legend Joe Montana, or Bombers icon Ken Ploen.
    The 1990 win marked the third time the Bombers won the Grey Cup over a second year period and was the 10th CFL championship victory for the Winnipeg franchise.
    At that time, no one knew it would take 29 years for the Bombers to win their 11th Grey Cup.
Between the 1990 and Sunday’s Grey Cup wins, the Bombers advanced to the Grey Cup game five times and came up empty handed in each of those tries.
    Their most hard luck setback arguably came in 2007, when they fell 23-19 to the Saskatchewan Roughriders at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ont.
    Winnipeg went into that contest without star quarterback Kevin Glenn, who broke his arm in the team’s victory one week earlier in the East final.
    Over that span of time, the Bombers had sensational years like their 14-4 campaign in 2001. They had campaigns where they were dreadful going a combined 7-29 in the 1997 and 1998 seasons and 3-15 in the 2013 campaign.
A Less Browne player card.
    Winnipeg fans stayed loyal to their club, but it seemed like a Grey Cup win would be something that just wouldn’t happen. It seemed like fate was against the Bombers, when it came to winning another CFL crown.
    Bombers fans that remembered the Grey Cup wins in 1984, 1988 and 1990 were aging and did their best to pass down stories from those glory days.
    A much smaller amount of Bombers fans remember a previous run of glory years under legendary head coach Bud Grant that saw the Bombers win Grey Cup titles in 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1962.
    Before Sunday’s Grey Cup win, the Bombers had a whole generation of fans that had never seen their team win a CFL title.
    Murphy became a Bombers icon serving as the team’s head coach and general manager during his time with the club from 1983 to 1996. Still, he had a bitter departure from the team following the 1996 campaign.
    Some said for a handful of years after his departure the Bombers were haunted by the “Curse of Cal.”
    I was fortunate enough to become friends with Murphy, after he started residing in Regina, Sask.
    I remember a visit around 2009 where he said he didn’t like that “curse” notion. He had a fond spot in his heart for Winnipeg, and he liked getting back there to do good things in that centre.
A Bombers Grey Cup shirt from 1990.
    Murphy told me any ill feelings were buried in the past long ago, and he wanted to see the Bombers win the Grey Cup again. The Bombers have been handing out the “Cal Murphy Heart of a Legend Award” since 2002.
    While scouting for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, Murphy always took time to visit with the Bombers fans at the Labour Day Classic games between the Bombers and Roughriders in Regina.
    Murphy passed away in February of 2012 at age 79, but you can bet somewhere out there he was happy giving off his trademark cackle laugh to go along with his huge grin after the Bombers finally won it all again.
    Even this season, it appeared the Bombers jinx when it came to winning the Grey Cup would continue. They entered the campaign as favourites to make and win the Grey Cup, but you were waiting for things to unravel.
    During a 32-16 home win over the B.C. Lions, Bombers star quarterback Matt Nichols was lost for the season due to a shoulder injury, and it seemed like Winnipeg’s title hopes would go down with him.
    Before the CFL’s trade deadline on Oct. 9, the Bombers acquired veteran quarterback Zach Collaros in a trade with the Toronto Argonauts.
Late Bomber GM and HC Cal Murphy.
    Collaros actually began the campaign as the Roughriders starting quarterback. On the Roughriders fourth play of their regular season opener, he suffered a concussion injury on a cheap hit by Tiger-Cats linebacker Simoni Lawrence.
    The Roughriders fell in that June 13 encounter 23-17.
    With Collaros down, Cody Fajardo had a meteoric rise to the pedestal of Roughriders star starting quarterback. Deemed expendable, Collaros was traded to the Argonauts in late July.
    He never took a single snap in Toronto. It seemed like his football days might be over, because he had a history of concussion injuries.
    Unexpectedly, Collaros became the savour of the Bombers season. He was inserted as the starting quarterback in their final regular season game, when they slipped past the Calgary Stampeders 29-28 at I.G. Field in Winnipeg on Oct. 25.
    That allowed the Bombers to finish the regular season with an 11-7 record. Collaros played well in all three of the Bombers post-season victories, which included downing the Roughriders 20-13 in the West final in Regina on Nov. 17.
    Inconceivably, he became a Grey Cup champion with the Bombers completing 17-of-23 passes for 170 yards in Sunday’s CFL championship game. In the process, Collaros prevented the Tiger-Cats, who topped the CFL regular season standings with a 15-3 mark, from winning their first Grey Cup since 1999.
Bombers fans like “The Golden Boy” can soak in their Grey Cup win.
    Overall, the 29 year drought between Grey Cup titles for Bombers fans just wasn’t fair for the support they have shown their club.
    The Bombers and their supporters very much deserved this long awaited Grey Cup title win.

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