Last game at Winnipeg Stadium will be bittersweet

KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:31 AM ET

If you were blindfolded, put in a time machine and dropped off at Winnipeg Stadium when it opened in 1953, you probably wouldn't know where you were.

There were only grandstands on the east and west sides of the field with no upper decks, and there was a track around the playing surface. That's all. It looked nothing like it does now.

Despite this, former Bomber quarterback great Ken Ploen is going to feel a tinge of sadness on Sunday when he sits in the stands and watches the Hamilton Tiger-Cats battle Winnipeg in the final game at the 58-year-old park.

"Well, sure," Ploen said. "I've got a lot of memories there."

Ploen arrived in Winnipeg in 1957, four years after the House That Jack Built played host to its first game. Jack, of course, was former Bombers quarterback Jack Jacobs, whose popularity led to the construction of Winnipeg Stadium because their former confines on Osborne Street were deemed too small.

While Jacobs may have had a big role in the building of Winnipeg Stadium, he played only two years there. Ploen was the first full-fledged star to grace the playing field at Polo Park, winning four Grey Cups over an 11-year career.

Ploen said even though the stadium was basically brand new when he arrived from the University of Iowa, it was still tiny compared to what he was used to in college.

"It was a nice facility and everything, but my God, I came out of Iowa and the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl and 100,000-seat stadiums," Ploen said. "It was a good stadium. I loved playing there. And that upper deck, when they put it on, it made it a very nice place."

Bob Cameron, who played more games at the stadium than anyone, actually punted on the field for the first time as a member of the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1978, the year the upper deck was put on the east side grandstand.

"It was brand new. Wow. It was a nice stadium. I'll never forget that," Cameron said. "I thought it was pretty cool. It was a beautiful stadium back in those days. I thought wow, this is big time playing here."

The Rough Riders cut him the next day, but two years later he began a 23-year career in Blue and Gold. Maybe Cameron spent too much time on Maroons Road, because he doesn't have as much of an affinity for the place as he did back in 1978.

"I wish I could say so, but maybe it's the business I'm in -- knocking down old pieces of crap and trying to fix them," said Cameron, who is in the construction and restoration business. "I'd rather knock them right to the ground and build brand new.

"I don't have a whole lot of feelings for the stadium, honestly. It's the players that you're with and the fans and all that stuff. It's talking about the games and not really the stadium itself. If it was an unbelievable architectural feat for its day, it would be a different story."

Like Ploen, Cameron will remember the games instead of the stadium itself. Ploen will always remember the matches that propelled them to the Grey Cup. Cameron will as well, but he will also recall the quirky contests as well. Like the time the field size was reduced because it was covered in ice and he had to kick converts in the opposite direction, from the end zones onto the field. Or the the time and exhibition contest delayed by a massive rain storm that was so intense the benches were floating.

"This thing is a bunch of steel and concrete, but it has great memories there," Cameron said. "When you go by it, you can't not think of the memories that we all have for the games that were played in there."

The stadium will even have a place in current Bomber quarterback Buck Pierce's heart. He won his only Grey Cup there in 2006, and his career was reborn on the Polo Park grounds over the last two seasons.

"That's always going to mean a lot to me," Pierce said.

kirk.penton@sunmedia.ca


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