West would love to be Blue again

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:08 AM ET

It was the eve of the 1989 CFL playoffs and Winnipeg GM Cal Murphy had decided to rid the Blue Bombers of their starting quarterback, Sean Salisbury.

And an untried, unproven Lee Saltz replaced him.

"Our quarterback was a guy who I thought was the worst starter in CFL history, and I told him that, too," former linebacker James (Wild) West recalled from his Atlanta home recently. "Then we beat Toronto in the semifinal and we gave him the game ball. I told him, 'Yup, you played a great game but you're still the worst starter in CFL history!' But he took it pretty good.

"We used to joke around so much, it kept everyone on edge. We'd even come to the locker-room two or three hours before practice just so we could laugh, work out and hang out."

West never had a quarrel with Salisbury's banishment.

"It wasn't a big deal for us because he was becoming a recluse," said West, 50. "And he gave everyone the impression he was carrying the team. But he didn't win the (1988) Grey Cup for us, it was our defence.

"It was the defence that was selling tickets and winning games, and the fans there really understood that. We made defence fun for the fans. I have great memories about the thrill of that crowd."

AMONG THE BEST

West, who will forever be known for initiating the chant, "Who got da Cup? We got da Cup." made the grade in The Sun's top 75 Bombers of all time, appropriately enough at No. 58, which he wore throughout his illustrious CFL career.

"I may not have been the greatest player up there but I was one of the best teammates," suggested West, the East nominee for top defensive player in 1987. "And I played with some of the best players ever at their positions. Scott Flagel was the best safety and special teams guy around and Bluto (offensive tackle Chris Walby) was the best offensive lineman who ever played up there -- not even close.

"Then there were (linebackers) Tyrone Jones, Greg Battle, Aaron Brown, Delbert Fowler, I learned from all those guys. And Michael Gray was the most underrated defensive lineman who ever played. (Defensive backs David) Shaw, (Roy) Bennett, Rod Hill, Ken Hailey, these are all CFL hall-of-fame names."

West, who started his CFL career in Calgary, was a two-time divisional and one-time CFL all-star.

"My first Grey Cup (1988), I'll never forget that," said the Bomber hall-of-famer. "I talked to the guys during the week and said, 'When we win the Cup -- not if but when -- the commissioner's going to hand it to me, and he did.' "

Thanks to Gray's last-minute pick.

"I still remember that like it was yesterday," said West, who now works with mortgages and still does some scouting for an undisclosed CFL team. "Michael Gray intercepted the pass to win that game and he looked like he was in a dream, in a trance. That's why I was beating on him, saying, 'This is not a dream!' "

West won the Cup again in 1990, the same week he and Jones picked the CFL's All-Ugly Team.

"We were really underdogs so I just said, 'We've got nothin' to lose so we might as well have fun.' And we beat the heck out of those guys (Edmonton Eskimos)," he said.

Although West once staged a walkout to protest per diems, poor equipment and other things, he had no qualms with Murphy.

"People used to talk about Cal being a tyrant but he did what he had to do," West surmised. "I respected Cal for what he did, even if he did trade me to B.C. I told Cal when I signed my last contract, 'I won't ask for any more money but don't ask me to take no pay cut.' Then he asked me to take a pay cut."

West, who has coached at several U.S. colleges and high schools, would love to become Winnipeg's mentor one day.

"That's my dream -- to coach that team," he said.


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