He was there from Day 1

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 1:31 PM ET

He was there when Winnipeg first entered the pro circuit back in 1930.

In fact, Burt Robinson attended local football games even before that -- at the old Carruthers Park, Rivers Park and Wesley Stadium when players still wore caps instead of helmets. And he still attends the odd CFL contest at Canad Inns Stadium today -- at 96 years young.

"Football was a passion for me, and my father started it," said Robinson, whose own son, Bruce, became a Blue Bombers president (1992-93). "Back in 1930, when they were called the Winnipegs, the Depression was there and they might have moved into Osborne Stadium then. My father used to drive his car right up to the touch lines and we had wonderful seats right there in the car. And those fields weren't regulation. There were only 10-15 feet in the end zones and the receivers would sometimes crash right into the billboards at the end of it."

Tom (Citation) Casey was his favourite player.

"He was a halfback and just a wonderful player who came here from Hamilton," said Robinson, who founded Robinson Lighting back in 1936. "Our president, Ralph Misener, said, 'Play for us and we'll get you a medical degree.' The Bombers paid for his schooling and he became a doctor.

"He was a gentleman and one of the finest black men I've ever known. I had lunch with him over in London, England and I used to send him post cards with updates of the scores. He sure liked that because he never got any news of our league over there."

Then there was Fritz Hanson.

"He came up here (from North Dakota) for the promise of a new overcoat," Robinson recalled. "And when he played against the teams from the East, he just ran them wild. He was something like the guy here now, Charlie (Roberts). And Leo Lewis was a wonderful player."

Robinson also listed the likes of Martin Gainor, Mel Wilson, Greg Kabat and Russ Rebholz -- "That guy could throw the ball the length of a football field," he said. "Gainor was a hard-nosed player and just terrific."

Robinson attended two Grey Cup Games, although the dates escape him. But one was the 1950 Mud Bowl "when Buddy Tinsley almost drowned."

"And (quarterback) Kenny Ploen was one of my favourites. Art Stevenson was another terrific halfback and both he and Ploen had the same jerky running style," he said.

Robinson also laughed when recalling the exploits of 'Indian Jack' Jacobs.

"When they built the new stadium (1953), they wanted to call it, 'The House That Jack Built' because people came to games just to see him play," he said. "But he wasn't appreciated. He was an Oklahoma Indian and he had a bit of a temper. He went after a referee during one game and they threw him out. Well, there were a couple of guys who had come down from the Yukon just to see 'Indian Jack' Jacobs and they got into the sauce. Then they kept asking where he was because they didn't know he'd been thrown out."

Fullback Charlie (Choo Choo) Shepard was "maybe the best punter we ever had," he added. "Gerry James was a terrific player as a fullback and I watched his father (Eddie James) play for the Bombers before that."

The man is like an audio Bomber history.

"One of the most startling things I ever saw was when (quarterback) Matt Dunigan passed for something like 753 yards (actually, it was a CFL record 713) in one game, and that was marvellous," he said. "What quarterback could do that today?"

While Robinson still hopes the current crop of Bombers can be revived, he wants another short-lived tradition to come back -- the morning church service at the Stadium before Sunday games.

"The church services were a good thing," he said. "That ought to get me in good with my church."

KEY DATES IN BOMBER HISTORY:

1984 -- Winnipeg Blue Bombers ended a 22-year drought when they defeated the Hamilton 47-17 in a Grey Cup that was full of drama. The match pitted Winnipeg quarterback Tom Clements against Dieter Brock, whom Hamilton had acquired in a trade which had sent Clements to Winnipeg. Hamilton jumped to a 17-0 lead before the Bombers kicked it into gear. Running back Willard Reaves scored two touchdowns, with slotback Joe Poplawski, wide receiver Jeff Boyd and defensive lineman Stan Mikawos getting the others.

1987 -- Winnipeg Blue Bombers moved into the Eastern Division after the Montreal Alouettes folded on June 24th.

1988 -- Winnipeg nipped the B.C. Lions 22-21 in the first Grey Cup essentially pitting two teams from the West against each other. Defensive end Michael Gray salted the game away with an interception near his own goal-line with the clock ticking down.


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