30 Years Ago – the 1990 Grey Cup Game
Would Hamilton have broken the longest championship drought in the league? Could Winnipeg defend their long-sought title? Or would we have seen a completely different scenario unfold? We will never know now of course. Plus we are all keeping our fingers crossed for the 2021 season.
This would have been the run up to the Grey Cup. And I thought it might still be interesting to do a series on the decade anniversaries of the big game.
The Run Up to The Game
The 1970’s had been a good time to be a football fan in Edmonton. During the decade, the then named Esks had gone 97-55-8. That had led to six Grey Cup appearances and three wins. So it was hard to imagine the 1980’s (the decade prior to the 1990 Grey Cup game) could be as successful.
Yet they had started the decade 38-9-1 and won three further Grey Cups between 1980 & 1982 as part of a run of five straight wins. All things being relative a ‘slump’ had followed as Edmonton went 27-21 over the next three years. Losing three straight West Semi-finals to Winnipeg along the way.
Since 1986 however they had returned to prominence. Going 51-20-1, appearing in four straight West Finals, two Grey Cups, and winning another title in 1987.
So, in total, the Eighties has seen Edmonton go 116-50-1, make 5 Grey Cup appearances, and win four of them. So what would the new decade hold? That would be the question going into the 1990 CFL season. That year Edmonton had finished second in the West with a 10-8 record, and once again found themselves in the title contest.
Two good recent runs
While the Seventies and early Eighties had been success central in Edmonton, Winnipeg had faced some struggles. After making a Grey Cup appearance in 1965, the Blue Bombers had managed one first placed finish in their Division between 1966 and 1987.
From 1966-1979 they had posted a 88-130-6 record. The Eighties however had seen an upswing in their fortunes. From 1980-89 they had posted a much improved 103-64-1 run. This meant that going into the 1990 final they were making their eleventh consecutive playoff appearance. A run that had seen them appear in, and win, 2 Grey Cup games (1984 & 1988).
Edmonton had picked up their 10th Championship in 1987. Winnipeg their 9th in 1988. Now it was time to see who would add to their tally in 1990.
1990 Grey Cup Playoffs
Whilst both teams may be in the West of Canada at this time they were in different divisions. This was because whilst Edmonton were still in the West Division, the Blue Bombers had moved into the East Division. Which was due to the demise of the Montreal Alouettes at this time.
All of which goes to explain why these two Western teams found themselves in different sides of the 1990 CFL playoffs.
Edmonton had gone 10-8 and finished second in the West Division. This meant they had played in the Western Semi-Final. A game in which they defeated Saskatchewan 43-27. The following week they put on a similar performance. This time upending the 11-6-1 Division Champ Calgary Stampeders 43-23.
Winnipeg had a simpler route through the Eastern Playoffs. They had won the East Division with a 12-6 record and earned a first round bye. In the East Division Final they had beaten the 10-8 Toronto Argonauts 20-17 for their place in the 1990 Grey Cup game.
The 1990 Grey Cup Game
Winnipeg went into the 1990 Grey Cup with the best record in the league, the CFL Coach of the year, and the Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the year on their squad. However, whilst Winnipeg had six CFL All-Stars on their squad, Edmonton had five of their own.
During the regular season the teams had met twice. Winnipeg won both contests. Winning 23-20 at home in Week 4 of the season. And adding a 48-25 win to that away at Edmonton in Week 13.
All of which seemed to be favourable for the Blue Bombers. But, Winnipeg were the first team in CFL history to have the best record and score the least points in a season going into this 1990 Grey Cup match.
They say however, that Defence wins championships. Well, Winnipeg in 1990 ranked first in most defensive categories, including points allowed, while finishing plus-20 in the turnover ratio — courtesy in part to an incredible 48 interceptions!
This one would not only go to form, but Winnipeg would put in a dominant performance.
Early in the game QB Tracy Ham had the Edmonton O moving. But League Defensive MOP Greg Battle intercepted him at the one yard line and ran the ball back out the the 43. A turning point that really seemed to knock Edmonton as the Winnipeg D started to dominate them.
A long Winnipeg drive led to a Field Goal. Following an Edmonton fumble Winnipeg drove to an 11 yard TD pass from Tom Burgess to Lee Hull. After one the Blue Bombers were up 10-0.
Whilst Edmonton kept the Blue Bombers at bay in the second they didn’t take much of an advantage. A Winnipeg fumble resulted in a 56 yard single and late in the quarter a Field Goal was added to take the halftme score to 10-4 Winnipeg.
Then the third quarter happened. There were two fumbles and a pick for the Winnipeg D. But now the offence got going too. Battle’s second intereception was returned 34 yards for a TD. Then the O added three more TD’s to boot. Now Winnipeg were up 38-4 after three and in control.
Edmonton actually scored first in the final quarter. But the Blue Bombers responded with a safety, a Field Goal, and just to rub things in a 56 yard pass and run once the backup QB came on. The final score was 50-11 in their favour.
This was only the thrid time a team had scored 50 points in a Grey Cup game, and Winnipeg’s 28 points in the third quarter set a Grey Cup record for points in one quarter.
What Came Next
Although only going 9-9 in the 1991 season Winnipeg would have some successful years coming up. Between 1992 and 1994 they would go 38-16 and appear in two Grey Cup games.
However following the 1990 Grey Cup game the Blue Bombers would not win another title (despite five Grey Cup appearances) until 2019.
Winnipeg also moved between Divisions over this time. They played a total of eight consecutive seasons in the East Division before moving to the newly created North Division in 1995 during the short-lived US Expansion era.
It was short lived though. As the Ottawa Rough Riders ceased operations. Once again Winnipeg were re-aligned to the East.
It wasn’t until 2014, and the arrival of the Ottawa RedBlacks that Winnipeg made it back to the West Division.
For Edmonton the 1990 Grey Cup came in the midst of a remarkable run. They would appear in the CFL post season every year until 2005. That run would see another 8 Grey Cup appearances, and four further title wins.
From 2002-2005 they would go 46-26, appear in three Grey Cups, and win three of them. Their last title came in 2015.
Banner Image: The 1990 Blue Bombers look on. Image from winnipegfreepress