'Bombers' a spinoff

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 1:32 PM ET

Football was already around long before Winnipeg joined the organized circuit that was to become the Canadian Football League in 1930, just not the way you know the grand old game today.

In fact, before the forward pass became popular and touchdowns were still worth five points, the Winnipeg Victorias had earned the right to represent the West in the 1924 Grey Cup. But they did not go because, according to Vince Leah's A History of the Blue Bombers, they could not agree on whether to travel by CNR or CPR, which resulted in an all-eastern championship. A Winnipeg team went the following year and was trampled 24-1 by the Ottawa Senators.

Back in the 1880s, the 90th Regiment had a rugby team known as the Winnipeg Rifles and by 1908, Canadian football was well-established in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. In Winnipeg, the Victorias, Tigers Rowing Club and St. John's University of Manitoba competed in a senior circuit. That, of course, was the year that Earl Grey, the governor-general of Canada, donated his $48 trophy to the Canadian Rugby Union.

The Winnipegs were borne out of that senior competition, thanks to the efforts of 'Tote' Mitchell, a soldier who had lost an arm in Flanders Fields during the First World War. Officially, the Winnipeg Rugby Football Club was founded on June 10, 1930. Dick Mahoney was elected president with Barry Bain as vice-president, Charlie Richardson, secretary-treasurer and Mitchell the manager. They played their first game against St. John's at Carruthers Park on Sept. 13, losing 7-3. They eventually moved into Osborne Stadium, used primarily for soccer at the time.

The club was simply known as the Winnipegs in those days. They wore green and white and won only one game that first year. Arnie Coulter, Lou Adelman, Bunny Boxer and Ted Morley were among the original players. But they were not known as the Blue Bombers until after they had amalgamated with St. John's and adopted blue and gold colours -- thanks to 'Uncle Vince' Leah.

"They were still the Winnipegs when I was assigned to cover practice sessions in late summer of 1935," Leah wrote. "The team already was wearing blue and gold and they looked so sharp in blue jerseys and gold helmets it was not difficult to find something in the realm of nomenclature to fit, although I never dreamt it would stick.

"Writing advance material for the opening exhibition game with North Dakota State in 1935, I decided to borrow from the late Grantland Rice who had labelled Joe Louis as 'The Brown Bomber.' I called the team the 'Blue Bombers of Western football' and I guess it rang a bell. Sports writers and broadcasters began calling them the Blue Bombers as an accepted alternative to Winnipegs. Before long, it was 'Winnipeg Blue Bombers' and the club eventually registered the name with the authorities."

That registration came in 1936, a year after Winnipeg became the first team west of Ontario to win the Grey Cup.


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