It's Ken, Ploen and simple

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:18 AM ET

He's not the Blue Bombers all-time leader in passing, and he didn't have the rifle arm of Dieter Brock, the gaudy stats of Khari Jones or the macho mentality of Matt Dunigan.

But Ken Ploen is unquestionably one of the top players in Winnipeg Football Club history.

Whether he was playing quarterback, offensive halfback or safety, Ploen exemplified what a professional athlete should be during his 11-year career.

That's why he's No. 1 on The Sun's list of the 75 best Blue Bombers of all time.

"How do you pick that out of 75 years?" Ploen said, a typically humble reaction for the product of Clinton, Iowa. "It's a team game. I was involved with some great football teams during my career, I know that."

More than 40 years later, we're still talking about them.

From 1957 to 1967, Ploen's Bombers reached the Grey Cup six times, winning four during an incredible five-year span, easily the team's most celebrated era.

"He had a great flair for the dramatic," former Winnipeg Tribune sportswriter Jack Matheson said of No. 11. "On both sides of the ball."

You don't have to look further than the Grey Cup wins to see that.

In Ploen's first year, the team surprised everybody by going 12-4 and upsetting Edmonton in the West Final, only to lose to Hamilton in the championship.

Ploen remembers he and his teammates vowing to redeem themselves after seeing the reception they got from Winnipeggers upon returning home.

"People were lined up on the streets from the airport all the way to the Arena, outside in sub-zero temperatures," he recalled. "And when we got to the Arena, the place was packed. We certainly wanted to bring the Grey Cup back."

A year later, Ploen backed up his promise with a game-clinching interception to end a thrilling, 35-28 win over those same Tiger-Cats.

In 1959, he was the starting quarterback in a 21-7 Winnipeg victory, again over Hamilton.

It would take his lowest moment as a Bomber, though, to produce his finest.

The 1960 West Final was a grueling, best-of-three affair that produced a predictably grinding, low-scoring deciding game. His team up 2-1 in the final minutes, Ploen, playing with a broken bone in his hand, fumbled away Winnipeg's hopes for a third straight CFL title, as the Bombers lost 4-2.

"It was a complete letdown," he said. "I can tell you, personally, I sat up a number of nights questioning what the hell I was doing, or why I fumbled."

That memory must have dogged Ploen until the 1961 Grey Cup, where he turned in the most memorable play in Blue Bomber history -- his overtime touchdown run that beat the Ticats, 21-14.

Looking at the video tape a hundred times doesn't make it any easier to explain how Ploen eluded Hamilton tacklers as he tight-roped the sidelines.

"I've looked at it a few times, and I don't understand it, either," Ploen said. "I guess we were made a little differently back in our day. Most guys would have ran out of bounds. I got a feeling maybe they felt that's what I was going to do.

"There's no question it was a highlight in my career, to be able to run in and win a Grey Cup for your team, (after I) kind of lost it with a fumble the year before."

The play remains the biggest touchdown of Ploen's pro career -- right up there with the 49-yard romp that opened the scoring in the Rose Bowl in his final college season with the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Adding a touchdown pass in that game, Ploen led the Hawkeyes to a 35-19 win, a sign of things to come for the future Canadian Football Hall of Famer.

Ploen, who's remained in Winnipeg since his playing days, sits third on the Bombers' all-time list for completions, attempts and touchdowns.

Where it counts most, though, he's No. 1.

"He was just a winner," Matheson said. "That's all."


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