Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers will take on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Canadian Football’s biggest stage. Sunday’s match-up will be the 10th Hamilton and Winnipeg meet in the big game, the most frequent match-up in Grey Cup history. If we include matchups involving the Hamilton Tigers and Wildcats, the cities of Winnipeg and Hamilton have met 12 times at this stage. So what better way to help set the mood for Sunday than to go back in time and look back and count down the five most iconic games in Grey Cup history between these two familiar foes.
Honourable Mention – 1935 – Winnipeg Pegs 18 – Hamilton Tigers 12
The game that started the championship rivalry. It was played in Hamilton and the home crowd must have been very confident of a Hamilton win, in all 10 previous attempts, no western Canadian team had ever been crowned Grey Cup champions, but Winnipeg decided to tear up the script. Winnipeg, helped by an unprecedented number of imported American players took an early lead after Hamilton fumbled the opening kick-off, the game entered the half with Winnipeg 12-4 up and just 30 minutes from history. Hamilton would manage to close the gap to just a 12-10 lead but another Winnipeg score was enough to hold off Hamilton for good for an 18-12 win, a win that allowed the West to break through the Grey Cup glass ceiling and helping to make the big game what it is today.
5. 1953 – Hamilton Tiger Cats 32 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers 7
Far from the highest-scoring match between these two, it would however be the first time the two sides in their current forms would meet and would be the first of an incredible seven Grey Cup finals contested between the two in 12 years. The game was played at a sold-out Varsity Stadium in Toronto and is best remembered as a defensive duel. Hamilton scored the only touchdown of the first half when quarterback Butch Songin ran the ball into the endzone. The reason for this being the score was largely down to Ti-Cats’ Vito Ragazzo bringing an end to a 92 yard Winnipeg drive by intercepting Bombers’ quarterback Jack Jacobs in the endzone and Hamilton went into halftime with the slender lead.
Hamilton’s defence continued to dominate when they again picked off Jacobs, this time it was Dick Brown who ended the Bombers drive. Winnipeg would eventually score though in the third quarter when Gerry James ran the ball in to make it 6-6. The Ti-Cats would respond immediately, Songin threw the ball in the direction of Vito Ragazzo, and when Bombers defender Geoff Crain whiffed on an attempted interception, Ragazzo had nothing but turf in front of him on his way to make it 12-6 Hamilton.
If Hamilton was going to win, they would need their defence to step up one more time in the fourth quarter, Jacobs lead Winnipeg on a 92-yard drive and the game came down to one last play on Hamilton’s two-yard line. In the games defining play, Jacobs stepped back to pass and found Tom Casey, but Ti-Cats linebacker Lou Kusserow was at the right place at the right time to break up the pass, sealing the win for the Ti-Cats and the first Grey Cup in Hamilton Tiger-Cats history.
4. 2019 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers 33 – Hamilton Tiger-Cats 12
In what was dubbed by some as ’the drought bowl’, the narrative for this game was a far cry from the battles of the 1960s. Going into the game, Hamilton (1999) and Winnipeg (1990) had a combined 49 year Grey Cup drought between them, the longest drought between two finalists in Grey Cup history. It was also the first Grey Cup meeting between the two since 1984, this game was the modern iteration of this classic rivalry.
Hamilton were favourites going into this game, but two forced turnovers by the Winnipeg defence in the first five minutes set the tone. Winnipeg took advantage to take an early lead on a 15 yard Andrew Harris run to make it 7-0. The scoring was contained to field goals and rouges and it would be Harris again to score the next touchdown, catching an 18 yard Chris Streveler pass to make it 18-6 before another field goal made it 21-6 going into the half.
Hamilton’s mountain became an even higher climb when Winnipeg made it 24-6. On the following drive, they were once again be thwarted by Winnipeg who forced a turnover on downs at their own 25 yard line. Hamilton would eventually find the endzone on their next drive, quarterback Dane Evans found Bralon Addison who ran the ball home, but a failed two-point conversion left the score at 24-12. This would be the closest Hamilton would get to Winnipeg for the rest of the game as the Bombers scored another nine unanswered points, largely thanks to Winnipeg forcing three more turnover’s from Hamilton in a dominant defensive display.
The CFL’s longest cup drought was over, Winnipeg had their first cup since 1990. Hamilton will hope Sunday’s rematch can see their long drought also end, owing to the 2020 cancelled season, 2019 and 2021 will be the first time since the early 60’s they would meet in back-to-back Grey Cups. Time will tell if 2019 will be the start of a new exciting era for this rivalry.
3. 1961 – Winnipeg 21 – Hamilton Tiger-Cats 14
The 1960s were considered the glory days for both franchises and it’s no surprise (spoiler alert) that all of the top three entries are from that decade. The 1961 Grey Cup is best known for being the first-ever Grey Cup to be tied after four quarters, meaning the game was going to overtime for the first time.
These two teams knew each other very well by this time, it was the fourth time in five years they had met in the championship decider. Winnipeg had won the matchups in 1958 and 1959, but Hamilton showed their intent early on a first-quarter 90-yard touchdown pass from Bernie Faloney to Paul Dekker, giving them an early 7-0 lead.
There wouldn’t be much in the way of scoring, Winnipeg connected on two field goals and a rougue but found themselves 14-7 behind going into the fourth quarter thanks to another Faloney touchdown, this time to Ralph Goldston. Winnipeg ran for an impressive 268 yards on the day, making it no surprise that their touchdown to tie the game came from a three-yard run from running back Gerry James. With no more scoring, it was time for sudden death overtime.
Deep into overtime, Winnipeg quarterback Ken Ploen stepped back to pass but with no options available decided to run himself, he charged down the sideline powering through multiple Ti-Cats defenders to run the ball in for an 18-yard touchdown, one of the most iconic plays in Blue Bombers history and settling the longest Grey Cup game played between the two rivals.
2. 1965 – Hamilton Tiger-Cats 22 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers 16
A game remembered as ‘the wind bowl’, this match between the two was dominated by winds of up to 30–40 mph (48–64 km/h). The conditions were so strong that in an unprecedented move, the officials and teams agreed that punts into the wind would be deemed dead as soon as the receiver touched the ball, creating a defacto fair catch rule and preventing the team receiving the punt from having unfair field position owing to the elements.
Running the ball would be the choice attack for both offences and Hamilton running back Dick Cohee opened the scoring on a seven-yard run in the first quarter. Winnipeg played the first quarter against the wind and when they had to punt deep in their territory, head coach Bud Grant opted to concede a two-point safety. In 1965, a team that conceded a safety was allowed to keep possession, so Grant had even more incentive than a coach would today to take this gamble. It was no coincidence that Hamilton scored all their points with the wind at their backs, as did Winnipeg.
The Bombers conceded two more intentional safety’s in the third quarter and a Bombers fourth quarter field goal brought the score to 22-16. Late in the fourth quarter, the Bombers were marching towards the Hamilton end zone spurred on by the wind in their backs, they had a third and one to deal with to keep their cup dreams alive. Winnipeg handed the ball to fullback Art Perkins but he was stopped short thanks to a great play from Ti-Cats defenders Herb Paterra and Angelo Mosca to turn the ball over.
Hamilton ran out the clock to win the game by six points, ironically the same number of points Winnipeg had intentionally given up in safetys. The games lasting legacy would be that for the 1966 season, the rule was changed that a team conceding a safety would also have to punt away possession. It was Hamilton’s first Grey Cup triumph over Winnipeg in four attempts, and the wind bowl brought the curtain down on the era where they squared off in the big game seven times in 12 years.
1. 1962 – Winnipeg Blue Bombers 28 – Hamilton Tiger-Cats 27
Another Grey Cup final, another nickname, perhaps this one is the most iconic of them all, ’the fog bowl’. Played at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium next to Lake Ontario, the game got off to a normal start with Hamilton running back Gareny Henley ran the ball home on a 74-yard play to give Hamilton a 6-0 lead after kicker Don Sutherin missed the point after attempt. Winnipeg’s Leo Lewis would give Winnipeg the lead with two touchdowns, one he ran in himself, and one he threw to Charlie Shepard.
Hamilton struck back again with two more touchdowns but thanks to another PAT miss from Sutherin, their lead was only 19-14. The Bombers took advantage of the misses to score another touchdown thanks to Lewis, this time on a 30-yard run after catching a pass to make the game 21-19 at halftime. But it was becoming clear as the second half went on that the elements were interfering.
A thick heavy fog settled over the field and when watching back game footage to put this article together, I can attest that it was very difficult to see what was going on, even the television announcers were struggling to follow the action at times. In the third quarter, Hamilton quarterback Joe Zuger found Dave Viti on a 36-yard touchdown pass and the broadcast announcer admitted to not knowing what happened as Hamilton took a 26-21 lead.
Winnipeg would respond to Hamilton taking the lead by marching the ball to the Tiger-Cats four-yard line, Kenny Ploen handed the ball off to Shepard who took the ball in for a touchdown, making it 28-26 Bombers. Hamilton had the chance to retake the lead at the end of the quarter from a field goal, the conditions again took centre place as there was initial confusion about if it was successful or not. No Bombers players made an attempt to pick up the ball after the kick giving the impression it was successful, the officials did though deem it to have gone wide and Hamilton would score a rouge to make it 28-27.
As the fourth quarter started, the fog showed no signs of slowing up and with 9.28 left on the clock, referee Paul Dojack postponed the game. After 20 minutes of deliberation and discussion, commissioner Sydney Halter took the decision to suspend the game until the day after, marking the first and only time the Grey Cup would take place over two days. Play would resume the following day and when a last gap desperate rogue attempt on a punt from Hamilton failed to reach the endzone, Winnipeg was finally able to be crowned 1962 Grey Cup champions, their fourth championship in five years, and an iconic win to mark the closing chapter on their late 50s and early 60s dynasty.