Fans true blue forever

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 1:30 PM ET

Ernie Karlowsky was born on April Fool's Day in 1924, but his passion for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers is no joke.

The 81-year-old Brunkild farmer is one of the Bombers' true blue fans. Actually, he may even be the mightiest of all when you look at the numbers.

He's been a season-ticket holder since 1948 and has missed only one home game (two at the most) in the past 57 years.

"I'm almost getting to the point where I can hide my own Easter eggs," Karlowsky said. "If I had to really swear to it, maybe I did miss one or two, but I don't know for sure."

If he did miss a game or two, it was only because he was harvesting his crop.

"I can't think of any (other) reason that I would miss a game," he said.

If he was, in fact, in his field while the Bombers were on the field at Osborne or Winnipeg Stadiums, he had his radio on in the combine. There's no doubt about that.

Nothing says Manitoba like a farmer listening to a Bomber game in his combine.

Karlowsky bought season tickets in 1948 at the urging of his good friend Sam Black, who ran the general store in Brunkild at the time.

"He and I were always interested and talking about the games," Karlowsky said. "I was just a young guy, and he was a little older, and he said 'Why don't we get season tickets?' He was the guy who got me going."

When Winnipeg Stadium opened five years later, he and Black got season tickets right behind the Bomber bench on the west side.

The problem was the seats were too good.

"It was nice to be that close to them, but the field was so rounded you could hardly see the play very good," Karlowsky said. "It was all scrambled, because you're too flat."

So he and Black moved up 12 rows to get a better view. Black passed away, but Karlowsky has been in Section D, Row 12 -- right on the 51-yard line -- ever since.

One of his fondest memories comes away from the field of play. He recalls playing shuffleboard with receiver Farrell Funston, who always carried a $1,000 bill in his wallet.

SIX GREY CUPS

"He used to knock us off our feet with that," Karlowsky said with a chuckle.

Karlowsky didn't follow the Bombers only at home. He has been to six Grey Cups, including the two in Winnipeg, and made his maiden voyage to the big game in 1965 when the Bombers fell 22-16 to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the infamous Wind Bowl at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto.

"The wind was blowing out from the water from the south to the north," Karlowsky recalled. "I'll tell you, 85% of the game was played in the north end. We were down by six points with just seconds to go, and Kenny Ploen, on second down he ran with the bloody ball ... and he fumbled the damn thing.

"He'll remember that one, for sure, and I do, too. That was my first Grey Cup."

Karlowsky was also in Edmonton for Winnipeg's 1984 triumph. When the Tiger-Cats took a 14-0 lead early in that one, he turned to his friend and said, "You know what? This is like injuring a bear. Look out."

He was right. The Bombers stormed back and stomped the Tabbies 47-17.

Thanks to a family connection, Karlowsky was able to rub shoulders with the rich and famous when the 1991 Grey Cup was played in Winnipeg.

The famous Toronto Argonaut owners -- John Candy and Bruce McNall -- had travel trailers set up to entertain, and Karlowsky helped take care of the portable units.

He also helped Candy's wife find her seat for the big game and met actor-comedian Martin Short in the process.

"After the game we got invited to their victory party in the hotel here," Karlowsky beamed.

The bottom line is long-time season ticket holders feel like they're a part of the team. You can tell by Karlowsky's recollection of the night in 1998 that he was honoured for his 50 years of purchasing season tickets.

"When they honoured me that 50th year, they gave us a table at the Blue and Gold Room," he said. "I took my two daughters and my son-in-law and another friend and my wife Judy. We had a nice dinner.

"That was a highlight for me."

It also confirmed what holds steady for Bomber fans in Manitoba and beyond: They are true blue forever.

"The teams always seem to always be good," he said. "I sometimes come home very disappointed and disgusted, but I never gave up on them."


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