A fun debate to pass the time in the off-season (or just another long-winded post from me, but it’s January and the Jets are in a bye week, so what else are you going to do to occupy your time?).
After last night's unbelievable finish in the Vikings-Saints game, it immediately brought me back to other incredible game-defining moments in football history. In the NFL, comparisons will be made to "The Immaculate Reception", "The Catch", "The Fumble", "The Music City Miracle", "The Helmet Catch" and so on as one of the greatest, most memorable plays/events in NFL history. And of course it got me thinking about the Bombers and their own history (and one obvious comparison play in particular, which is the genesis of this post) so it got me thinking:
What are the greatest "moments" In Blue Bomber history?
Some ground rules first:
Not game or performance per se, but a singular moment that stands out as a defining part of a team's history, so Matt Dunigan's 713 yard passing game (which is still one of the 2 best games I have ever seen in Bomber history) would not fit this list as there was no one single "moment" or play that stood out in that entire game as opposed to his entire performance. I will ignore my own rule and bend this requirement a bit in a couple of cases, if you want to get technical about it. Sue me.
Also, no negative moments in this list. "Greatest" means good stuff, so the 14-12 loss to Baltimore in the East Final (the other best game I have ever seen in Bomber history, BTW) does not get a mention, despite having many memorable "moments" including the Bomber fumble that wasn't for a Baltimore TD, the Baltimore non-fumble that was but was missed by the refs, the 54 yard knife to heart field goal in the last minute, the botched fake field goal, and the crossbar deflection that messed up a TD pass. Neither does the end of the 1972 West Final, where Saskatchewan was trailing the Bombers 12-11 and lined up a last play field goal, missed it and it was punted out of the end zone to avoid the tying single, was punted back in, and back out again before the ‘Rider player was tackled to end the game, BUT the Bombers were flagged for no yards on that second punt, giving Saskatchewan another chance at the field goal which they made to win the game.
Also, no moments from any games not involving the Bombers, obviously (so as much as people would like to say it, the Roughriders losing the Grey Cup with their too many men penalty against the Alouettes does not apply, even if it is a wonderful moment for Bomber fans).
One final caveat, I have been following the team closely since 1980, so the list will be heavily weighted towards the last 35 years or so and will no doubt neglect the first 50 years of this storied franchise, so please feel free to add any earlier events I have missed.
Honourable mentions (and why they didn’t crack the top 10):
Greg Battle’s pick-6 INT over the back of an Edmonton player in the 1990 Grey Cup – brilliant play, no doubt, but in a 50-11 blowout you rarely get that “Oh my God can you believe what just happened” kind of vibe that you do with a single moment that turns defeat into victory in a tight game. Plus, I have listed a more defining moment from that season that propelled them to the championship game.
Ty Jones strip sacks Dieter Brock and Stan Mikawos recovers the fumble for a touchdown in 1984 Grey Cup – This was in fact the winning score in the game as the Bombers took the lead 20-17, and a huge play in the defining 27 point second quarter of what would be a 47-17 blowout, but the momentum had already shifted (thanks to a David Shaw INT and Tom Clements losing a contact lens which allowed John Hufnagel to come in and settle things down), so reduced points for overall impact in the game. Plus, I have again found what I feel was a more defining “moment” for that championship season that is listed below.
Troy Westwood’s 55 yard game winning field goal against the ‘Riders (2003) – still the longest game-winning kick I have ever witnessed live on the last play of the game, total excitement in the stands, and it has been well over a decade and I still remember it vividly, so was pretty wild, but game winning field goals in regular season games are too common to be a “greatest” moment.
Juran Bolden’s pick-6 INT to seal the 2001 East Final – Huge play that led to bedlam in the stands, but factors against it include (a) Bob Cameron’s long punt single to put the Bombers up by 8 was another big play just before it, (b) it didn’t change the outcome of the game, just ensured it, and (c) the following week’s result completely negates its impact.
Comeback win against Montreal this year (2017), Arland Bruce’s 4 TD game in the Calgary comeback 51-48 OT win (2003), or most any other wild comeback win – Sure, there are some wins that are more memorable than others (and in fact 4 of them make this list, so I do recognize the historical “greatest moment” context of them in extreme cases), but these types of miracle finishes from 17+ points down in the final quarter of a generic regular season game are more common than they seem (a truly amazing comeback happens every 5-7 years or so for a specific team, case in point the Montreal game was 2017, #9 on this list was 2010, Bruce’s game in 2003, #7 on the list in 1998, you get the point), and I don’t even recall the greatest Bomber comeback ever – down 27 points in Hamilton twice in a road game in 1994 before winning 46-44, so they typically do not merit mention.
On to the list:
10. Joe Poplawski’s left-footed onside kick as the Bombers storm back with 2 TDs in the final minute to win in Ottawa (1978). – OK, so I said regular season comebacks aren’t really defining moments, and they aren’t. And in fact this comeback wasn’t so massive, with the Bombers down 12 with a minute left. What makes this one so unique was that regular kicker Bernie Ruoff was not sent out but instead they opted for receiver Poplawski, who nobody realized was a great soccer player and who could kick left-footed, so when they approached the ball everyone figured Joe Pop would sky the ball to the left sideline with his right foot (where the Bombers had lined up 10 of their players). Instead, Poplawski approached and kicked left-footed down the right sideline about 15 yards where Gord Patterson was completely alone and uncovered waiting for the ball to land in his arms. It was so effective and unexpected that even Patterson was caught off-guard. He could have caught it and run untouched into the end zone, but he simply fell down after fielding the kick and was tagged down eventually. No matter, Dieter Brock orchestrated the game winning drive in about 30 seconds and the Bombers stole one. Still regarded as the best executed onside kick in Bomber, if not CFL, history.
9. Deon Beasley’s pick-6 INT in overtime to clinch wild comeback against BC (2010) – Down 32-11 in the fourth quarter. Stephen Jyles comes off the bench to win it. 24 points in the 4th quarter. 2 TD’s in the last 2 minutes, no crazy onside kick recovery. Just an inconceivable comeback, and this memorable play in overtime was the capper to a great game. Fun fact, it was the last pass self-proclaimed superstar Casey Printers ever threw in the CFL (I’m not 100% sure that is accurate, but it sounds like it should be a thing)
8. Milt Stegall’s 4th TD catch against BC (2005) – Crosses the hazy line from great moment to great game, fair enough. But it sticks out more than most great milestones (like Dunigan’s 713, Fred Reid’s 260, James Jefferson’s 4 defensive player TD’s, and the like) for a few reasons. One, it was the Bombers’ 75th Anniversary game, so for him so outdo everyone so spectacularly in a game with that pomp and ceremony was something. Two, Milt caught 4 passes all day, and each one went for a TD (he dropped a fifth pass, and the joke was he knew he couldn’t score, so he deliberately dropped it to ensure his 100% average). Three, the last TD was his longest of the day at 101 yards, and he was celebrating it on his own side of midfield as he ran with the ball held high – he and we knew we couldn’t be caught from behind, and watching him sprint for the end zone for the 4th time that day was what made this an “I was there and saw this incredible spectacle” moment. And fourth, on a personal note, that was the same game I arranged for my dad to get a tour of the press box before the game for his 77th birthday, and Bob Irving personally came out before the radio broadcast to talk with him for a few minutes, so that was a great personal moment for me.
7. Troy Kopp leads the Bombers back in the fourth quarter to stun Saskatchewan 36-35 (1998) – I guess the “moment” from this game is the touchdown to Stanley Bryant with 21 seconds left to win it, but to understand why this game is such a “moment” game compared to any other surprise comeback win is the context it occurred in. The 1998 Bombers came into the game at 0-10. That is not a typo. Before the Cleveland Browns, this was the factory of sadness. They had been 4-14 the year before, on the heels of 18 straight playoff appearances and 5 Grey Cup appearances over a 10 year span, so this losing was new and very uncomfortable, especially since the decline was so steep. Trailing arch-rival Saskatchewan 28-10 going into the fourth quarter. Another typical blowout loss, another embarrassment from T.J. Rubley and Jeff Reinbold. More than that, the ‘Riders were rubbing our noses in it. Up 18, they recovered a deliberate onside kick when they aimed the kickoff square at an unsuspecting Wade Miller, drilled it into his sternum and jumped on it first. Miller was in tears on the sideline, inconsolable after that humiliation. The ever-positive Reinbold, to his credit, yelled, “Get over it! It’s one play. You’ve got to put those tears away until the end. We’ve got a game we can still win here”. Cue Troy Kopp. First ever CFL appearance and all he does is manufacture 26 points in fifteen minutes for maybe the most inept Bomber team in history. One score lead to another, and another, and another, and while we all secretly dreaded the “how will they screw this up and stomp on our hearts this time” collapse, the fact was we were so overmatched every game that even a close loss was a success. When Stanley dove across the goal line, the stadium exploded in a raucous roar of pure joy, free of two season’s worth of pent up frustration. Kopp was the king of Winnipeg for the next week. People heard he had no car and wanted to buy him one (a local dealer gave him a free lease for the rest of the year). He needed a place to stay, they offered up their houses or offered to find him an apartment. The joy lasted all of one week until the next blowout, but for one glorious moment, all the pain of a dismal season was lifted. The last “spontaneous” field rush I have been a part of at the conclusion of a football game.
OK, so the top 6 are what I would truly consider team defining “moments” in this club’s history, for their sheer importance in the club’s success, rather than just neat memorable moments that make for nice stories.
6. Tom Burgess scampers 35 yards with 20 seconds left to set up the game winning field goal in the 1990 East Final – A largely disregarded moment in Bomber history, but a huge one nonetheless. Tied at 17 with the tenacious Argos in the final half minute of the game, the usually lead-footed Burgess (OK, that’s a bit unfair, but running was not his strength) dropped back to pass at his own 50 before stepping up in the pocket and seeing nothing but a sea of green astroturf in front of him. He ran right up the gut for 35 yards (apparently it was the longest run from scrimmage all season for the Bombers) to the Toronto 25 yard line, and Trevor Kennard kicked the game-winning field goal with no time left on the very next play, sending the Blue and Gold to the 1990 Grey Cup game. It was the first Division Final home win for the Bombers in 28 years (we’ve had 4 in the 28 years since). Probably overlooked because the team was on its way to its 3rd Grey Cup in 7 years, so the “breakthrough” angle of the moment was diminished, but it led them to a Grey Cup win, so historically important.
5. James Murphy’s TD catch between 2 BC defenders to propel the Bombers to the 1984 Grey Cup, their first visit in 19 years – Pre-Milt, the greatest receiver in Bomber history. And this catch is remembered (by Bomber fans, at least – it seems to be largely forgotten by the rest of the CFL) as the turning point in the Western Final in 1984. The Bombers had lost home field advantage to BC in the final week of the season, and had to face the noisiest stadium in the league in the match to decide who would go to the Grey Cup. BC players (most notably loud mouth DE Nick Hebeler) were selling post-game Grey Cup party tickets to their fans IN THE WEEK BEFORE THE WEST FINAL . The Bombers were seeking revenge after Tom Clements was knocked out of the 1983 West Final with a separated shoulder (on what some call a late, dirty hit out of bounds). Yeah, these teams hated each other. And although the Bombers led 10-4 in the second quarter, BC’s offence was so explosive that no lead felt safe. Then Clements lofted a long bomb down to Murphy who was double covered. Somehow, Murphy leapt up over both of BC's defensive backs while running backwards, caught the ball one-handed with his outstretched arm, came down and maintained his balance as they collided with each other, and rolled into the end zone for a touchdown (my mind is a bit hazy today – pretty sure he did score here, but stand to be corrected, either way a ridiculous catch) which put the Bombers ahead to stay. The Bombers were off to the Grey Cup for the first time in 19 years, the monkey was off their backs, and this catch was the big reason why. Fun side note, after the game was done, Bomber OL Doug McIvor saw a dejected Hebeler walking off the field and yelled “Hey Nick, I’ll take two tickets to your Grey Cup party”. Could be ranked higher but for the time it occurred (not a Championship game, but the lead-up game, and it happened in the second quarter, so there was plenty of stuff that could have occurred to make this a non-factor later in the game).
4. Stegall’s record breaking 138th TD (2007) – Milestones, especially career milestones, are funny things when it comes to “greatest moments”. They are certainly memorable, but they don’t carry the same “wow” factor like the Vikings TD, because you know they are coming, it is just a matter of when. And they kind of fit a different category in a club’s history, because it isn’t a breakthrough moment for a team as much as it is individual accomplishment. So it is weird in a way to rank this one, and especially this high, but this was a moment for the ages in Winnipeg sports (like Selanne’s 54th goal). Forget that it was a scripted play to feed him the ball on the one yard line rather than a typical touchdown, forget that it was supposed to be a run that morphed into a pass, forget that the actual TD was one of the least spectacular of his career, forget that the “cooler” TD of that game was his 139th on a classic long bomb behind the defender (with 1:38 left on the clock in a delicious moment of symmetry). It was the culmination of the greatness that was Milt, and one of the greatest achievements in CFL history. No louder moment ever in CanadInns stadium than when he crossed the goal line.
3. Miracle Milt – 100 yard TD in Edmonton on last play to win the game (2006) – What, this is not #1? Isn't this the play that inspired this whole, super long list in the first place? Are you crazy, TB4E? No, yes, and that depends on who you ask. It ranks at #3 and here is why. Yes, it defies logic that this play could even happen. 100 yards to go with 3 seconds left and needing a touchdown to go from losing to winning? Especially after just having given up the lead with 15 seconds to go? Even more stunning is that they ran the same route the play before and the Esks almost got burned, but did nothing to correct their man coverage. Amazing that Geroy Simon would pull off the same play on the last play a few years later from 65 yards out or so against these same Eskimos. Amazing that, even if Stegall had been tackled, Chris Armstrong was right beside him uncovered and could have received a lateral. So this is clearly THE touchdown of Stegall’s storied career and fits all the criteria of the “OMG that was the most amazing moment in football I have ever seen” that this list strives to uncover. It even has a nickname that is all you need to utter and people know what you are talking about without describing the play, so it is that memorable. So why only #3? Because it was regular season. This did not propel the team to a championship (or even a playoff win). Once in a lifetime play, zero consequences in the big picture of a team’s legacy. Had this play happened pre-social media, I don’t think it would generate the buzz it does because of repeated YouTube viewings building its lore.
2. The Immaculate Interception (1988) – Yes, the nickname says it all, but for those of you who do not know: Michael Grey grabs the deflected Matt Dunigan pass for a goal line interception in the last minute and preserves the most unlikely Grey Cup win in Bomber history. Arguably could be #1 because these Bombers were such underdogs. Had the 1984 team not won the Grey Cup to sate the long-suffering fans from their championship drought, I suspect this would top the list.
1. Ken Ploen’s OT touchdown run to win the 1961 Grey Cup – Sudden death in the Championship game for the first time ever, and you win it on this run by your franchise’s most storied QB ever against your most heated rival? What can be more memorable than that? This is the opposite of the Stegall 100 yard TD (which is probably overvalued due to recency bias)– if it occurred in the age of social media and not in the grainy footage era of the 1960’s, it would be more highly regarded through sheer rewatchability. And yes, the 3rd of 4 Grey Cups in a 5 year span tends to take the “we finally climbed the mountain” aspect out of it. But the first OT ever in the Grey Cup is a situation made for a “greatest moment”. Still regarded as one of the greatest CFL Championship game ever. And the fact it happened a decade before I was born and yet I and likely any Bomber fan out there knows of its existence tells you how important it is.
So, what did I miss, over or undervalue? What are your memories?