Winnipeg Blue Bombers: The team for you?

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: The team for you?
Reading Time: 8 minutes.

Could the Winnipeg Blue Bombers be the CFL team for you? We recently ran an article giving you some pointers as to which CFL team you might want to support. It was about making the right choice for you.

That was a brief introduction to each team. Following on from that I thought it might be fun to look at each of the nine teams in a little more depth. Especially because, in that article we noted, “You need to find an affinity. Feel a connection. Have something that makes them, however they perform, very much your team.”

We started with a look at the the Hamilton Tiger-CatsOttawa REDBLACKSSaskatchewan RoughridersBC LionsMontreal Alouettes, and latterly Edmonton Elks. This time we are headed back into the West Division to take a look at the Winnipeg Blue Bombers to see if there is something there that will make a connection for you to want to support them.

The Stadium

Home to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. IG Field. Image from stadiumjourney.com

The Blue Bombers play at IG Field, a 33,500 capacity stadium, (expandable to 40,000 for major events including Grey Cup and other events), situated on the University of Manitoba campus. The stadium is owned by a consortium, of which the Blue Bombers are one constituent part. It was opened in 2013 and the Blue Bombers played their first home game at Investors Group Field (later IG Field) on June the 27th, 2013, losing 38–33 to the Montreal Alouettes.

The Blue Bombers share the stadium with the Manitoba Bisons, (A U Sports American football team), Winnipeg Rifles, (a CJFL team), and since 2019 Valour FC (a football [soccer] team).

Half of the stadium contains a basement for football operations, locker rooms for Blue Bombers, Bisons, visiting teams and amateur athletes plus a commissary. The stadium has a sunken bowl design which means the playing field dips into the ground 25 feet below the main concourse.

Winnipeg had previously played at Osborne Stadium from 1935-1952, and Winnipeg Stadium from 1953-2012. Record regular season attendance stands at 35,959 from the 1993 season whilst at Winnipeg Stadium.

You can take a virtual tour of IG Field here.

The History

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers trace their official start back to 1930 when the Winnipeg Football Club was formed. However, football in Manitoba goes back well before that date. Several amateur rugby football clubs competed as Winnipeg as early as the 1880s. In 1888, the Winnipeg Rugby Football Club, the St. John’s College team and the Royal School of Mounted Infantry team formed the Manitoba Rugby League. The Manitoba Rugby Football Union was formed in 1892, followed in 1911 by the Western Canada Rugby Football Union (WCRFU) consisting of teams from Manitoba Saskatchewan and Alberta.

The Winnipeg Victorias were the first Winnipeg team to become Western champions in 1924. They did not however contest the Grey Cup. The first Winnipeg based team to do so were the Winnipeg Tammany Tigers. Who lost to the Ottawa Senators (the Rough Riders had temporarily changed their name for a few seasons) in 1925 by a score of 24-1. 

The Founding

In June, 1930 the Winnipeg Football Club was formed. They came out of an amalgamation of the Tammany Tigers and other Winnipeg teams in the MRFU. Originally known as the Winnipegs or simply the ‘Pegs, they would go from an 0-4 founding season to winning the Grey Cup in 1935. Winnipeg had imported a large swathe of American talent, and it payed off with the ‘Pegs becoming the first western team to win the Grey Cup.

In 1936, the Western Interprovincial Football Union (WIFU) was formed and the ‘Pegs became the Blue Bombers for the first time. The new name is attributed to Vince Leah, a writer for the Winnipeg Tribune. This is because he called the team Blue Bombers in comparing them to the then heavy weight boxing champion ‘Brown Bomber’ Joe Louis.

After picking up their first Grey Cup in 1935, Winnipeg would see great success in the West. In fact, after becoming the Blue Bombers they would represent the West in seven out of eight Grey Cup contests in an 11 year period. Three contests were lost to the Second World War. Plus in 1940 despite being Western Champions they were refused entry into the grey Cup in a dispute over playing rules.

Over that period they went 42-18 in the regular seasons and 2-5 in the Grey Cup games.

A Blue Bombers Dynasty Era

The Blue Bombers did go to the Grey Cup twice in the early 1950s, losing in 1950 and 1953, but it was the late 1950s and early 1960s that were the golden years for the Bomber franchise. From 1957 to 1962 the Blue Bombers were on a tear in the CFL. Led by Head Coach Bud Grant they recorded a 75-21 regular season run. Which translated into 5 Grey Cup appearances (they were runners up in 1957) and four wins.

Grant of course would go on to coach the Vikings in the NFL. In fact he was the first coach (and one of only two, the other being Marv Levy), to be inducted into both the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his time in the NFL, and Canadian Football Hall of Fame for his time in the CFL.

If it hadn’t been for a 14-2 1960 Blue Bombers team losing a 3 game Western Semi-Final to Edmonton they could have appeared in 5 straight Grey Cups. In fact they made 5 finals in 6 years, and every time faced Hamilton. After two fallow years, by 1965 they made it back to the Grey Cup, but this time lost to the Tiger-Cats.

After The Peak

Following their Grey Cup appearance in 1965, the Blue Bombers managed one first placed finish in their Division between 1966 and 1987. From 1966-1979 they posted an 88-130-6 record. The Eighties however saw an upswing in their fortunes. From 1980-89 they put together a much improved 103-64-1 run. This was part of a run of seventeen consecutive playoff appearances (1980-1996). During the Eighties they appeared in, and won, 2 Grey Cup games (1984 & 1988).

As we have already noted, before 2019 the Nineties started with their last Grey Cup win in 1990 as they clobbered Edmonton 50-11. From 1990-94 they had a lot of success going 59-31, winning the Division on four occasions and making two more Grey Cup appearances, but losing in 1992 and 1993. Decline set in after that for the rest of the decade punctuated by going 7-29 from 1997 to 1998.

Going into the new millennium the 2000’s saw the Blue Bombers go 90-88-2. Along the way they made 2 losing Grey Cup appearances in 2001 and 2007.

The Blue Bombers – a Western Team with time in the East

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are very much a Western team and belong in the CFL West Division. But they have spent a considerable amount of time in the East Division too. Between 1987 and 2013 they spent 21 seasons in the East Division. Plus one season in the North Divisions as part of the US expansion era.

In 1987 they moved to the East Division to replace Montreal who had folded just prior to the regular season.

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. As the US expansion was wound down, and the Baltimore Stallions were made into the core of a reinstated Montreal Alouettes team, Winnipeg returned to the West Division in 1996.

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 the Blue Bombers returned ‘home’ to the West Division.

The Banjo Bowl

Winnipeg Blue Bombers DB Moe Leggett with the Banjo Bowl trophy after a win in the contest for which it was named. Image from cfl.ca

Every year since 2004, the Blue Bombers have been hosting the Saskatchewan Roughriders in a contest that has come to be known as ‘the Banjo Bowl’ at IG Field. Following on usually from a traditional Labour Day Classic visit to Regina. This reverse contest in Winnipeg can expect to draw a raucous crowd. Be a sold out game, and provide a great atmosphere.

How did this all come about? According to Wikipedia, ‘the “Banjo Bowl” moniker was coined by a Blue Bombers board member in early 2004, inspired by an infamous comment made by Bombers kicker Troy Westwood in the week prior to a 2003 Western Division Semi-Final game between the two teams.’

In a media interview, Westwood had referred to fans of the Riders as “A bunch of banjo pickin’ inbreds”. Before the two teams met in the 2003 West semifinal he apologized for the comment. But in the most tongue in cheek way possible; He said “the vast majority of the people in Saskatchewan have no idea how to play the banjo.”

Westwood himself has attributed this all to growing up in the cauldron of the Bombers-Riders rivalry. Pointing out many times that it was all in fun. And that his mother’s side of the family is from Regina.

Winnipeg won the last Banjo Bowl 35-10 back in 2019 on the way to their historic Grey Cup win. They are on a one game winning streak in a contest that has been fought sixteen times. And which they lead overall 9-7.

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers today

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are the reigning Grey Cup Champions. An achievement made all the sweeter coming as it did in 2019 after the longest title drought in team history. Incredibly this was their first championship since 1990.

The 2010’s are a decade that gradually got better and better for Blue Bombers fans. Throughout the decade they went 79-101. The Blue Bombers did contest the Grey Cup in 2011 but lost to the BC Lions. That season was something of an outlier as the period 2010-2015 saw them go 35-73 overall. From 2016-2019 they have gone 44-28, made 4 consecutive playoff appearances and finally won the big one.

Up until 2019 then they had the longest run without a championship in the CFL. This win was huge for Winnipeg. They got the monkey of their back in a big way. That run from 1984 to 2019 ended one of the longest championship droughts in CFL history. Now Blue Bombers fans are enjoying watching their team defend a championship this year following the cancelled season in 2020.

Are they right for you?

There are nine teams to choose from. This is just the latest. But could the Blue Bombers be the ones for you? Winnipeg are one of three “community owned” teams in the CFL. The other two being the Edmonton Elks, and the Blue Bomber’s great rivals the Saskatchewan Roughriders. This means that unlike some franchises that uproot and move, the Blue Bombers belong to their local community, and as an intrinsic part of the DNA of the city won’t be going anywhere.

Founded in 1930, but with a football tradition going back to the 1880’s this a team with plenty of history. Chairwoman Dayna Spiring was the first woman to see her name etched on the Grey Cup.

They are a team with stars too. OL Stanley Bryant who joined the team from Calgary in 2015 was a CFL All Star from 2017-2019, and was the League’s Most Outstanding Lineman in 2017 & 2018. DL Willie Jefferson who joined from Saskatchewan after the 2018 season is the reigning Most Outstanding Defensive Player. Running Back Andrew Harris is the CFL all-time leader in career rushing yards by a Canadian and won Most Valuable Canadian and MVP awards in the 2019 Grey Cup.

Quarterback Zach Collaros was the missing piece joining from the Argos last year. One piece missing from the title defence is backup QB Chris Streveler who set a team rushing record last year before departing for the Arizona Cardinals. If you haven’t seen him celebrating the Grey Cup win – go look it up.

A UK Connection

Thanks to the global players initiative we are hoping to see Brits hit the field in the CFL one day. Right now the Blue Bombers have 22 year old Linebacker Ayo Oyelola, born in Luton, and former Nottigham Caesars player, on their practice squad.

If any ever make it onto O’Shea’s Blue Bombers they may do well. This is a team that knows how to use global players on their roster. Perhaps the most successful has been Thiadric Hansen. The former Potsdam Royal found a home with the Blue Bombers on the Defensive Line. Hansen dressed for every game in the 2019 season and became part of the team’s defensive-line rotation, finishing with five tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles. Then there was the ‘hit heard around the world.’ In the Blue Bombers Grey Cup win.

Winnipeg has a small but very active fan presence here in the UK. You can find them on Facebook here. You can make contact with @ukbombers the driving force behind this community and a huge supporter of the Blue and Gold here in the UK. He is always looking for new UK based fans, and a few exiles and friends to connect with.

Banner Image: Andrew Harris takes the handoff. Image from cfl.ca

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