Saturday, 29 April 2017

Winnerpeg!

"Winnerpeg" it used to be nicknamed, and this may come as a surprise to modern day fans who associate the Winnipeg Blue Bombers primarily with prolonged futility and desperation 61 yard playoff field goal attempts (well short - to nobody's surprise). Now that Ottawa has overcome their 40 year Grey Cup drought (as well as the loss of two of their franchises!) that leaves Winnipeg as the longest suffering CFL fan base going on 27 years with no championship team to celebrate. But it wasn't always this way, at one time the Blue Bombers were the ultimate powerhouse team in Canada
and only one of those amazing quirks of sporting fate kept them from very likely becoming the first team to amass five consecutive Grey Cup championships.



Fantastic colour image from the 1957 Grey Cup game used for the cover sheet of a career retrospective book for celebrated Toronto sport photographers Lou and Nat Turofsky 


Winnipeg was the only Western team to win the Dominion championship before the end of World War II (3 times) but had subsequently suffered multiple losses after the war in the Grey Cup final. Finally in 1957 under head coach Bud Grant they unseated the reigning Eskimo dynasty and began one of their own. They lost the 1957 game to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but that would be the last time that happened during the next 5 years.
  


With success comes more memorabilia to keep the ardent fans engaged. Above are a Bomber's pennant and 1957 Grey Cup paper badge as well as a plastic (I think) football shaped pinback celebrating the Bombers Western Conference title of that year  


From 1958 through 1962 the Bombers would dominate the West and the whole country appearing in and winning the Grey Cup in 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1962. In every one of those games their opponents would be the Hamilton Tiger-Cats coached by Jim Trimble.



At the beginning of this period Winnipeg was loaded with record setting stars, many of whom would produce Hall of Fame careers. The above section highlighting some of these players is from the Blue Bomber's newsletter "The Blue and the Gold"  Issue no 4,  March 1958


In a series of articles that I wrote for the now defunct CFHA - Canadian Football Historical Association journal (From Scrimmage to Snapback) in the mid-2000's a statistical comparison was compiled from the records and achievements of post WWII CFL dynastic teams (up to 1982). These Blue Bombers over a 6 year period compiled the highest regular season win percentage (.781) of any team, including that spanning the Eskimos 5 in a row dynasty 1977 - 1982 (.756).



Regular trips to the Grey Cup and an end to a 17 year Grey Cup drought in 1958 meant ever more Blue Bomber souvenirs and an upsurge of civic pride for their gridiron heroes 


Cartoon section from the Blue Bomber's newsletter "The Blue and the Gold"  Issue no 1, April 1959 indicative of the team's focus with their Eastern rivals. The answer to the question posed turned out to be definitively yes  

In 1960 the Bombers' had what most of the veteran players felt was easily the finest team they had yet assembled posting a 14-2 record. In the East the Tiger-Cats had surprisingly crashed to a last place finish setting the table for what should have been a Bomber cakewalk to a third consecutive title. But
in the deciding game of the western final series with Edmonton, the Blue Bombers were leading 2-1 needing only to run out the clock in a brutally cold snowstorm. Instead an inopportune fumble allowed Edmonton to kick the winning field goal with seconds to play.




This metal fan badge and Booster Club cloth patch (or possibly air freshener type of product) are two more examples of novelties that the team's winning ways made profitable


Since the Bombers recovered to win the next two subsequent Grey Cups, the first overtime contest ever in 1961 and the infamous Fog Bowl in 1962, the upset loss in 1960 loomed even larger breaking the Bomber wins into two sets of back to back championships instead of a potential five in a row. Of course impressive regular season records are not necessarily a guarantee of victory (just ask the 2016 Calgary Stampeders).



Paper ephemera from this era is also plentiful and wonderfully evocative of the time  


Glassware was a popular product promoting the league in the late fifties and early sixties, and because much of it celebrated the Grey Cup, much of it naturally featured Winnipeg. For colour scheme you might as well use Blue and Gold since that was what champions wore! 


The Blue Bombers from 1957 - 1962 played an incredible 18! playoff games as this was the era of grueling multi-game playoff matchups, compiling a .694 playoff win record. Contrast that with their nemesis, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who only had to play 10 playoff games over the same time span. Compare that with the 1977 - 1982 Eskimos who only had to play 6!! playoff games to position themselves for dynastic Grey Cup glory and Winnipeg's achievements are even more impressive than just the bare number of Grey Cups won would indicate (which is of course plenty impressive on its own).



The team certainly did not go out of their way to trumpet their championship successes on their media guide covers. 


The Bombers returned to the Grey Cup in 1965 but were finally overcome by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. The team would go on to another lengthy multi-decade championship drought after 1962 until 1984.  



These fabulous Community Hotels calendars (1963 shown above) are the best representative collectibles of the great Bomber teams of the late 50's - Mid 60's. They are catalogued in Collecting Canadian Football Volume 2.



Here is one of my favorite oddball items, one of those old style pens with a hollow barrel filled with fluid, when you tip the pen the football player moves back and forth while the referee signals touchdown! The other side shows the Grey Cup and Manitoba's legislature golden boy statue  




It would seem that the Bombers of this era had a low tolerance for lack of glory as they promote the return to it after just two seasons out of the Grey Cup on the left.  Finally in 1966 with the glory years fading in the rear view mirror the media guide makes sure that the team's impressive championship triumphs are properly noted.   



On the eve of the 1963 season the Winnipeg Blue Bomber's were easily the most consistently successful Western franchise by a huge margin and the other western clubs could only dream of emulating that standard. They had won 7 Grey Cups in total while the second best team Edmonton (3) had less than half as many, Calgary only had (1) and both B.C. and Saskatchewan still had (0).

Even today at 10 cups the Blue Bombers are still the 2nd most successful Western team in terms of championships won. So keep that in mind when you watch the Blue Bombers struggle to end their championship-less torment, this year and for how ever many more years it takes.


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