The fourth decade in the history of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers – the 1960s – offered the extreme highs and lows that often come in the life of a football organization over a 10-year span.
The 1950s had established the franchise as the Canadian Football League’s elite, especially following back-to-back Grey Cup titles in 1958 and 1959. And while the 1960s opened with heartbreak, as a 14-2 squad fell in the West Final, the Bombers would then crank out a combined 24-8 record over the next two years, capped by two more championships in 1961 and 1962. All told, the Bombers appeared in five West Finals and three Grey Cups in the decade.
But there were some painful lows, too, as evidenced by a 13-game losing streak during the 1964 season that remains a club record and a limp to the finish line to finish the decade as the club went 10-37-1 over from 1967-69.
Still, the early 60s are fondly remembered as part of the franchise’s ‘Glory Years’ that saw the club appear in six Grey Cups from a span of 1957-65 – all against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, it should be noted – with four titles.
The ’61 Grey Cup was the first to go into overtime, with the Bombers winning as Ken Ploen scored on a spectacular 19-yard run that remains one of the greatest single plays in franchise history.
The Bombers were back again in the Grey Cup a year later in a game that became infamous because of the weather. The ‘Fog Bowl’ saw a thick mist roll in off Lake Ontario for the Saturday afternoon game, dramatically worsening the conditions. CFL commissioner G. Sydney Halter opted to postpone the game with 9:29 left and the Bombers leading 28-27. Just 15,000 returned for the finale the next day, but there was no scoring. Leo Lewis scored twice and threw for another and was named the game’s MVP.
Winnipeg missed the playoffs in both 1963 and 1964, but was back in the ’65 Grey Cup – another dictated by the weather conditions. Dubbed ‘The Wind Bowl’ because of gusts of up to 64 km/h, Bombers head coach Bud Grant opted to yield three safeties as the club struggled in the conditions – and those six points were, ironically, the margin of defeat in a 22-16 loss. The Bombers would not appear in another Grey Cup until 1984.
The success of the ‘Glory Years’ began to fade with the retirements of stars like Ploen, Lewis, Herb Gray, Frank Rigney and others, and especially after the club’s architect – Grant – left to become the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings.
He was replaced by Joe Zaleski for the 1967 season, but the decline would carry into the 1970s, a decade full of so much promise… and so much heartache.
FYI: The 1960s
- In 1960 the Bombers opened with 10 straight victories, which remains a club record.
- Bud Grant remains the longest-serving and winningest coach in Bombers history. He was on the sidelines for 10 years as a coach following his playing days, and during that span the club went 102-56-2, for a .644 winning percentage while capturing four championships.
- Ken Ploen retired in 1967 as the CFL’s sixth all-time leading passer, while also ranking fifth on the all-time rushing list. A legend on the field, he stayed in Winnipeg after his playing career and became one of the city’s icons.
- During a run from August 11, 1960 through September 10, 1962 the Bombers did not lose a single game away from home. That 20-game road winning streak is a Canadian Football League record that still stands to this day. Only twice in franchise history – 1960 and 1961 – has the franchise not lost a road game in a single season.
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