Gary Allen, Michael Allen, Romel Andrews, Nick Bastaja, Greg Battle, Lyle Bauer, Walter Bender, David Black, Aaron Brown, Todd Brown, Rod Calloway, Bob Cameron, Willie Cannon, Paul Clatney, Terry Cochrane, Roy Dewalt, Randy Fabi, Willie Fears, Delbert Fowler, Mike Gray, Ken Hailey, Leon Hatziioannou, Rod Hill, Derek Holloway, Roy Hurd, James Jefferson, Jeff Jenkins, Tim Jessie, Tony Johns, Trevor Kennerd, Eddie McQuarters Jr., Stan Mikawos, Bob Molle, Tom Muecke Jr., James Murphy, Vernon Pahl, Ken Pettway, Rob Prodanovic, George (Buster) Rhymes, Steve Rodehutskors, Sean Salisbury, Lee Saltz, Darryl Sampson, Mark Seale, Paul Shorten, Jeff Smith, David Stanley, Jeff Tedford, Bennie Thompson, Brad Tierney, Perry Tuttle, Chris Walby, James West, Dan Wicklum, Ken Winey, Darren Yewchyn, head coach Mike Riley.
The 1988 Winnipeg Blue Bombers weren’t just scrappers on the field. They were fighters off of it as well — with each other. And times didn’t have to tough for them to tussle, either. These guys even fought after winning the Grey Cup in Ottawa.
“A couple guys got in a fight in the airport on the way home,” punter Bob Cameron recalled with a laugh. “It was a rag-tag crew. We had a lot of fun, though.”
Not much was expected of the ’88 Bombers. Mike Riley was in his second year as head coach, and the team had suffered a talent drain that included the departures of players like Tom Clements, Willard Reaves and Scott Flagel. Finishing the regular season with three straight losses and a 9-9 record did nothing to change those doubts, as only about 12,000 showed up at Winnipeg Stadium for the East semifinal against Hamilton.
That, however, is when the breaks started going Winnipeg’s way. Cameron recalls Tiger-Cats great Earl Winfield returning a punt for a sure touchdown until Flagel, who was now in Hamilton, accidentally tripped his teammate at the five-yard line. The Ticats had to settle for a field goal, and the Bombers went on to win.
The Bombers, who still had future Canadian Football Hall of Famers like Chris Walby and Greg Battle on their roster, went into Toronto, which led the CFL with a 14-4 record, and thumped the Argos 27-11 in the East final to advance to the Grey Cup against the B.C. Lions.
The underdog Bombers, with quarterback Sean Salisbury at the controls, proceeded to pull off one of the most memorable plays in team and CFL history that ultimately sealed the deal. Winnipeg led 22-19 late in the fourth quarter and the B.C. Lions were marching. A Matt Dunigan pass was deflected, and Bombers linebacker Mike Gray snared the pigskin at the Winnipeg’s three-yard line in what has often been referred to as the “Immaculate Interception.”
“It was one of those years where nothing much was expected of us, and then to come through at the end, I couldn’t believe it, really, the way things worked out,” Cameron said.
After the Bombers conceded a safety that got the Lions to within one, they kicked off. Linebacker Paul Clatney roared down the field, zeroed in on off returner Tony Cherry, who didn’t have the ball, and delivered an uppercut to Cherry’s chin that left the Lion bloodied and fuming. Cherry chased Clatney down, started punching him and drew a penalty. If Clatney had been flagged, the Lions probably would’ve been in field goal range for the winning kick. But that’s not what happened.
The ’88 Bombers were scrappers until the final, triumphant moment. And they had a little bit of luck on their side, too. “Some incredible breaks,” Cameron said, “and some hard, hard play.”