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Out east, Toronto was 6-5-1. By the time the Nov. 25 Grey Cup rolled around, the field at Varsity Stadium was a quagmire, the result of heavy snow, rain and the lack of a tarp over the field. Crews used heavy equipment to clear it, making things worse. “Those chewed up the field so that we were running in literally four or five inches of mud, ” Toronto’s Nick Volpe told the Globe and Mail, decades later.
The Mud Bowl, domination and a 72-year wait: Bombers-Argos not exactly steeped in Cup tradition Bombers-Argos not exactly steeped in Grey Cup tradition | Winnipeg Sun Skip to Content This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Winnipeg Blue Bombers Football CFL Game action from the 1950 Grey Cup game (aka the Mud Bowl), between the Toronto Argonauts and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and Museum. Photo by Supplied /Canadian Football Hall of Fame and Museum REGINA – Some CFL championship matchups have instant appeal, conjuring up visions of Grey Cups past. This advertisement has not loaded yet, but your article continues below. Winnipeg-Hamilton, for instance, who went at it last year and in 2019, adding two chapters to a rich Grey Cup history between the franchises.
1950: The Mud Bowl, Varsity Stadium, Toronto The Bombers were a bad team in 1948 and ’49, posting 3-9 and 2-12 seasons, respectively. The signing of NFL quarterback Jack Jacobs helped turn things around for the ’50 season. Posting a 10-4 record in the old Western Interprovincial Football Union – the CFL wasn’t officially a thing, yet – the Bombers lost the first game of the best-of-three final series against Edmonton, then won two straight to advance to the Grey Cup.
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Nobody could have predicted then it would be more than half a century before Winnipeg and Toronto would meet again to determine the No. 1 team in three-down football. The 1930s and ’40s In 1947, the Bombers and Argos met in the Grey Cup for the third straight year, the first time that had happened. And for a third straight year, the Bombers went home empty-handed, turning a 9-0 lead into a last-play, 10-9 defeat. The teams almost didn’t have a trophy to play for, as a fire had gutted the Argonauts Rowing Club, destroying all the trophies in the building except one: the Grey Cup, which was found caught up on a nail, hanging on the wall. It was the last Grey Cup won by a team with only Canadian players. A year earlier, it wasn’t as close, the Argos winning 28-6. The conclusion of World War II, which shut down regular-season play from 1942-44, returned the CFL to near normal for the 1945 season.
Winnipeg and Toronto? Not so much. How is it these two storied entities haven’t tangled for all the marbles since 1950? Sure, the Blue Bombers have called the East Division home at times. But this week’s Cup collision is still a remarkably rare occurrence in what’s usually been a nine-team league. When the Blue and Gold and the Double Blue do lock horns in the big game, as ancient as those stories are, it hasn’t gone well for the westerners. In six Grey Cup clashes, the Argonauts have won them all, going a long way toward their league-best 17-6 record in the CFL’s title game.
While the Boatmen usually win when they reach the championship, the Bombers tend to lose, the last two seasons notwithstanding: a CFL-high 26 appearances have produced just 12 victories. None of it means a thing for this year’s game, of course. But join us for a trip back in the time machine, regardless, just for fun. Mostly because the records, pre-1950, are sparse, we’ll focus on the last Bombers-Argos Grey Cup, one of the most infamous in CFL history, played 72 years ago.
It was a typical result for a Winnipeg-Toronto Grey Cup, though, the Argos romping to a 35-0 win. The 1930s produced the other two matchups, the Argos winning, 30-7, in 1938 and 4-3 the year before that. An interesting footnote to the 1937 game: played on Dec. 11, it was the latest Grey Cup game on the calendar until last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the season and the title game until Dec. 12.
“It was almost impossible to play. Ted Toogood and I were punt returners and we decided rather than try to catch the ball, because we couldn’t, to let the ball hit the mud then pick it up and run with it. ” Watching old film from the game, it’s hard to believe they even played it. Argos quarterback Al Dekdebrun, the story goes, filed down some thumbtacks and taped them to his fingers to get some grip on the ball.
Volpe said officials forced him to take them off at halftime. The most often told story of that game has always been a bit of a hyperbole: that Winnipeg’s Buddy Tinsley nearly drowned when he was knocked, face-down and motionless, into a pool of water. With fans screaming, referee Hec Creighton turned him over. Tinsley would later say his leg went numb but he hadn’t lost consciousness and wasn’t about to drown. Today’s Bombers like to think they’re “mudders, ” especially the offensive line. But those conditions in 1950 would only favour actual hogs. A record 57 radio stations across the country carried the game, with Winnipeg broadcaster Jack Wells one half of the two-man crew.
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“Cactus” Jack and his partner, Wes McKnight, would have had a hell of a time calling the play, as yard markers, player numbers, even the colours of the teams’ jerseys, were soon rendered unidentifiable by the slop. Cactus didn’t have much good to tell his Manitoba audience, either: the Bombers were blanked, 13-0, the last team to be shut out in the Grey Cup. It would be three more years before the Bombers made it back to the championship, eight more before they’d win it. By then they were a member of the West Division of the newly established Canadian Football League.
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