CFL throws Prairie party

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:56 AM ET

When the Grey Cup game got old and tired in places like Toronto and Vancouver, the CFL brought it to the Prairies and injected new life into it.

The Canadian Football Hall of Fame is planning to do the same thing with its induction weekend.

Held in Hamilton for 37 of the last 38 years, the three-day celebration of three-down legends is coming to Winnipeg in September.

"It needed some energy," former Blue Bomber and Hall of Fame member Paul Bennett, the driving force behind the event, said yesterday. "There's not a better city in Canada, with the football fans. I know they will support it. When you see this event, it is truly remarkable. It's something you just haven't seen before."

An Ontario native who settled here when he retired, Bennett first floated the idea in September, and has worked tirelessly since to make it happen.

Wrestling it from organizers in Hamilton, he says, wasn't easy.

"Let's face it, these are the guys that started it," Bennett said. "It was their baby. And they didn't want to let it go. When they see how it's going to end up here and the opportunities they're going to have in the future, they're going to see it as being a very smart move on their part."

Bennett envisions the day when cities bid for the Hall of Fame weekend, much like teams have been bidding for the right to host the Grey Cup ever since it became a surefire moneymaker again.

TURN A PROFIT

He's confident this year's event will turn a profit, pegged to benefit several local charities.

"I had to set up a corporation to protect myself from losing a lot of money," Bennett said. "I was really nervous at the beginning. But the response has been fabulous."

The event will include a golf tournament, a fundraising dinner and breakfast, the unveiling of this year's inductees and their busts and the Hall of Fame game, featuring the Bombers and Toronto, Sept. 26.

The only question left is who this year's inductees will be.

Bennett, who also played for Toronto and Hamilton, says he'd love to see a former Bomber make the Hall.

But if it doesn't happen, he hopes the involvement of members like Chris Walby, James Murphy, Ken Ploen and Joe Poplawski will create plenty of buzz, regardless.

"Quite honestly, I'm surprised this hasn't occurred sooner," Poplawski said. "It was time. A change was needed. And what better place to have it than the city of volunteers, the city that tends to rally around events like this."

The plan is also to make it a classier event, with the bust unveiling at a local casino.

"It's going to be a little better than the parking lot I was inducted in in Hamilton," Bennett said.

WEEKEND EVENTS

.- Sept. 24: golf tournament

.- Sept. 25: Welcome to Winnipeg Breakfast; bust unveiling and presentations; gala dinner and formal induction

.- Sept. 26: Hall of Fame game, Bombers vs. Toronto

.- (info: bluebombers.com)


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