The Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ run of the late 1950s/early 1960s – with four Grey Cups over a five-year span – has often been referred to as the franchise’s ‘Glory Years.’
Well, welcome to the Bombers in the 1980s and a stretch of football that could unofficially be titled ‘The Other Glory Years’ or ‘Glory Years 2.0.’
True, those titles might need some work. Still, it’s worth noting that the Bombers won two championships in the 1980s, as many as in any other decade, suffered only one losing season, and posted a combined won-lost-tied record of 103-64-1, for a 61.2 winning percentage.
The 80s opened with the Bombers stuck behind an Edmonton Eskimos dynasty that won five straight Grey Cups from 1978-82 – losing to the eventual champions in both the 1980 and 1982 West Final – before closing the chapter on that dynasty with a victory in the 1983 West Semi-Final.
The ’84 Bombers ended what had then been the longest championship drought in franchise history – dating back to 1962 – by beating the Eskimos at home, knocking off the B.C. Lions on the road and then eviscerating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Grey Cup. The juicy sidebar to that story had the Bombers beating Dieter Brock in the game, as he had been traded to the Ticats in 1983 following a contract dispute for Tom Clements, who was at the controls in the Grey Cup.
And in 1988 an improbable 9-9 Bombers side went on a memorable playoff run with two road victories in the playoffs before edging the Lions in the championship.
The Bombers would post their only losing campaign of the decade in 1989, posting a 7-4 record through mid-September only to lose seven straight, win the East Semi-Final and then fall in the division final.
It should also be pointed out that no decade provided as much individual accomplishment for Bomber players as the 1980s. During that span, Winnipeg players captured 15 honours at the Most Outstanding Player Awards:
- Most Outstanding Player: Dieter Brock, 1980, 1981; Willard Reaves, 1984; James Murphy, 1986; Tom Clements, 1987
- Most Outstanding Rookie: William Miller, 1980
- Most Outstanding Defensive Player: Tyrone Jones, 1985
- Most Outstanding Canadian: Joe Poplawski, 1981, 1986; Paul Bennett, 1983; Scott Flagel, 1987
- Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman: Larry Butler, 1981; John Bonk, 1984; Nick Bastaja, 1985; Chris Walby, 1987
Yes, there was a sense the Bombers left some potential championships on the table – the 1987 squad was as good a team as there was in franchise history before being upset in the division final – but the success in the playoffs, with 11 victories and two titles, provided a complete turnaround to the frustrations of the 1970s.
What came next, in the 1990s, were some of the most dramatic highs and lows in the club’s 90 years.
FYI: The 1980s
- The Bombers had three head coaches in the decade – Ray Jauch, who became head coach in 1978 and left after the ’82 season for the Washington Federals of the USFL; Cal Murphy (1983-86; he would return to the sidelines in 1993) and Mike Riley (1987-90). All three would be honoured as the CFL’s Coach of the Year during the decade – Jauch in 1980, Murphy in 1984 and Riley in 1988.
- In 1984, Tyrone Jones set a Bombers record with 20.5 quarterback sacks (back when the league tracked half sacks). Incredibly, that was the third-highest total in the league that year as B.C.’s James ‘Quick’ Parker led the league with a record 26.5 sacks while Toronto’s James Curry had 22. The only Bomber to come within range of breaking that record was Jamaal Westerman, who has 17 sacks in 2015.
- In 1981 and in the second of his back-to-back Most Outstanding Player seasons, Dieter Brock threw for 4,796 yards – breaking the long-standing record of 4,723 set by Montreal’s Sam Etcheverry in 1956. He left the CFL in 1985 and became the starter for the Los Angeles Rams and at 34, set the record as the oldest ‘rookie’ in NFL history.
- The Bombers have had some dominant stretches in their history, including a run from 1980 through 1986 in which the club was a combined 113-34 for a winning percentage of .769.
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