The first decade of the current millennium for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will long be remembered as a period featuring dominant performances from a star-studded cast.
It might also elicit a string of curses from some faithful as they recall one of the most frustrating periods in the franchise’s long history, as even with a cast of all-stars, a Grey Cup drought that had dated back to 1990 subsequently carried through to the end of the decade.
Yes, for as much as the 2000s gave us the best of Milt Stegall and introduced us to the likes of Charles Roberts, Doug Brown, Khari Jones, Arland Bruce III and a host of others, it also served up two painful Grey Cup losses in 2001 and 2007 and two more losses in divisional finals.
The decade opened with promise as the organization began to work through the financial dark days at the end of the 1990s thanks to the tireless work of the executives, while the on-field product showed dramatic improvement.
The Bombers lost in the 2000 East Final to the Montreal Alouettes, but transformed into a Canadian Football League powerhouse a year later in posting a 14-4 record that included a franchise record 12-game win streak and seeing four members capturing Most Outstanding Player Awards in Jones (Most Outstanding), Brown (Canadian), Roberts (Special Teams) and Dave Mudge (Offensive Lineman).
Alas, that storybook campaign ended with a nightmare in a loss to the Calgary Stampeders in the ’01 Grey Cup.
The club looked poised to finish in the years ahead, but couldn’t quite bust through to the winner’s circle. That was painfully clear in the 2007 Grey Cup when – minus quarterback Kevin Glenn, who had broken his arm in the division final – the Bombers went down to Saskatchewan with a rookie quarterback in Ryan Dinwiddie making his first start after being promoted to QB1.
The 2008 season then saw the Bombers fall in the first round of the playoffs and a year later, the club missed the postseason altogether.
And so in a decade in which so many individual awards, honours and records were captured or broken – including Stegall becoming the CFL’s all-time touchdown king – the Bombers failed to grab the most coveted prize of all – the Grey Cup.
As we all know, that drought would last well into the next decade before glory would finally come to the franchise again.
FYI: The 2000s
- On July 27, 2007 in a game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at a sold-out Canad Inns Stadium, Milt Stegall became the CFL’s all-time touchdown leader by taking a short shovel pass from Kevin Glenn. That TD, the 138th of his career, moved Stegall past George Reed and Mike Pringle into top spot. Stegall officially retired on February 18, 2009 with 147 career TDs. Just to put that into perspective, the leader among active CFLers in career TDs is Andrew Harris, with 76.
- In 2002 Stegall established a CFL record for most touchdowns in a season with 23, a mark that still stands. That same year Khari Jones threw for 46 TDs – a Winnipeg franchise record and the third-highest total in CFL history behind Doug Flutie, who had 48 in 1996 and 47 in 1997.
- During the 2000s the Bombers had four head coaches – Dave Ritchie (1999-2004), Jim Daley (2004-05), Doug Berry (2006-08) and Mike Kelly (2009). The Bombers were 52-44-1 under Ritchie, 10-19 under Daley, 27-26-1 under Berry and 7-11 under Kelly.
- In addition to the four Most Outstanding Player Award winners in 2001, the Bombers also saw Albert Johnson III and Gavin Walls win Most Outstanding Rookie Player in 2000 and 2005, respectively, Stegall won Most Outstanding Player in 2002, while Johnson III and Keith Stokes were voted the Most Outstanding Special Teams Player – Johnson III in 2000 and Stokes in 2004. Ritchie was also named the CFL’s Coach of the Year in 2001.
- The Bombers placed eight players on the 2001 CFL All-Star Team in Jones, Stegall, Mudge, Brown, Roberts along with Juran Bolden, Brett MacNeil and Harold Nash, Jr. That’s the third-highest total in franchise history, as the team had 10 players selected to the CFL All-Star Team in 1984 and 1987 and nine in 1985.
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