Hard to pick best team

PAUL TURENNE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 1:31 PM ET

Seventy-five teams, 10 Grey Cup wins, 29 hall of fame players, a million opinions and one question: Which Blue Bombers team was the greatest one of all-time?

Was it one of the Bombers teams of the late 1950s and early 1960s that won four Grey Cups in five years and featured hall of famers like Ken Ploen, Leo Lewis, Gerry James and Herb Gray? Or how about the 1984 Bombers, which ended a 22-year Cup drought with a sensational Grey Cup win over Dieter Brock and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats? Maybe it was the early Bombers of the late 1930s, who played in three straight Grey Cup games and featured a half-dozen hall of fame players of their own? And don't count out Khari, Milt, Blink, and the 2001 squad.

But how does one choose just one team?

DIFFERENT ERAS

Is it really fair to compare teams from different eras; eras when players played on both sides of the ball and had day jobs to eras of million-dollar contracts and scientific body-sculpting?

And does a team necessarily have to have won the Cup to be considered?

A good place to start answering these questions is the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

The most hall of famers any one Bomber team has had at once is seven, but five teams hold that distinction.

The 1937 and 1938 Bombers have seven each (Eddie James, Fritz Hanson, Russ Rebholz, Greg Kabat, Art Stevenson, Les Lear and Ches McCance) but both of those teams lost the Grey Cup final to Toronto. The 1939 and 1941 squads both won the Cup, but with only five hall of famers each.

The other teams with seven hall of famers were the 1958, 1959 and 1960 editions of the team, which featured names like Ploen, Lewis, James, and Gray, as well as Buddy Tinsley and Frank Rigney. The seventh hall of famer on those squads, and a key part of those teams, was coach Bud Grant, who guided the Bombers to Cup wins in 1958, 1959, 1961 and 1962.

"Ironically, I think the 1960 team might have been the best team," said Ploen. "I think we went 14-2 and got upset in the playoffs and didn't make the Grey Cup that year."

"We had that nucleus of players from 1957 and that was kind of right in the middle of it," he said.

"We had so much talent in those days," said Ron Latourelle, who played receiver with the Bombers from 1955 to 1964. "We hit an era there where there was so much balance, so much talent and great coaching."

"Every kid's dream playing football in Canada is to play in the CFL, but to participate in five Grey Cups that's mind-boggling. I still don't believe it," he said. "It was great to be with that group at that time."

The Bombers were Cup-starved from 1962 until 1984, when a bunch of guys including Tom Clements, James Murphy, Joe Poplawski, and Chris Walby, under the tutelage of Cal Murphy, slaughtered the Ti-Cats to win the Cup.

"I guess the best team that I played on was probably the 1984 team," said Bob Cameron, whose time with the team spans three decades. "Laying a beating on Hamilton with Dieter Brock was really icing on the cake."

Both Cameron and coach Murphy said the 1987 was also top-notch, but their failure to win the Cup disqualifies them.

"You've got to finish it off. Personnel is one thing, regular season is one thing," said Cameron. "But to end up not finishing it off leaves a sour taste in your mouth."

That would also disqualify the 2001 squad, even though they set CFL touchdown records and won 12 straight games.

"Boy that 12 game win streak, I've never seen anything like it," said longtime Bombers broadcaster Bob Irving.

"It was one of those situations where if we would have played Calgary (who they lost to in the Cup) nine or 10 times we might have only lost once or twice," said Cameron.

Coach Murphy's vote, along with that of fans polled in the online chat forum www.ourbombers.com, goes to the 1984 team.

"I know it was better than anything they've had since," he said.

Murphy said it's unfair to compare teams of different eras, and maybe you should pick great teams from a few different times throughout league history.

In the end, it's all subject to debate, and 75 teams may be just too many to choose from.

And the debate will only grow over the next 75 years.

KEY DATES IN BOMBER HISTORY:

1953 -- Hamilton Tiger-Cats beat Winnipeg 12-6 in the Grey Cup, which was televised live by three television networks.

1957 -- Hamilton Tiger-Cats whip Winnipeg 32-7 in the Grey Cup in a game where Bomber running back Gerry James broke a finger and fumbled four times. The match was also noteable for the Bibbles Bawel incident. Bawel had intercepted a pass and was racing down the sidelines when a spectator -- a lawyer from Toronto named Humphries -- stuck out his foot and tripped him. Humphries was not even ejected.

Jan. 19, 1958 -- The Canadian Football League name became official at Winnipeg's Royal Alexander Hotel and Winnipeg's G. Sydney Halter was named commissioner.

1958 -- Winnipeg Blue Bombers beat Hamilton 35-28 in the Grey Cup, with quarterback Jim Van Pelt scoring 22 points to set a Grey Cup record (since broken when Don Sweet scored 23 in 1977). Norm Rauhaus also blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone on the last play of the first half to give Winnipeg a 20-14 lead.


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