Grey Cup - 1988 - Lansdowne Park -
Winnipeg 22 - British Columbia 21
Bombers Away in Ottawa - Austin Murphy -
Illustrated - 05-12-1988
The Canadian Football League is a bit eccentric: It has one too few downs
and one too many teams named Rough Riders. It loses a ton of money each
year and has somehow gained 10 extra yards on its field of play. But give
the CFL some credit—the Grey Cup, its championship game, was a smash on
Amid fierce winds in Ottawa, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers survived two late
surges by the favored British Columbia Lions to win the 76th cup 22-21.
Even hardened NFL fans would have savored the fourth-quarter thrills to
which Canadians were treated Sunday.
Winnipeg's victory came with a particularly Canadian twist. Among the
team's 22 points were three "singles." A single is awarded for attempted
field goals or punts that go out-of-bounds in the end zone—a consolation,
perhaps, to CFL teams for having only three downs to work with.
"It's the strangest thing I've ever heard of—getting a point for missing a
field goal," said Bomber quarterback Sean Salisbury, a former USC Trojan
who arrived in Canada four months ago after being cut by the Indianapolis
Colts, "but thank God for the single today."
Despite Winnipeg's lame 9-9 record in the regular season (it is the first
.500 team to win the CFL championship), the matchup was promising. The
league's top battery, B.C.'s quarterback Matt Dunigan and wideout David
Williams, would face the league's toughest secondary. The CFL's cleanest
player, Salisbury, a polite-as-pie Mormon, would peer across the line at
its dirtiest, B.C. linebacker Jeff (the Nutcracker) Braswell. Indeed,
Braswell was suspended for a game last month after kicking two of his own
teammates in practice.
Sure enough, there was Braswell, in the first half of Sunday's game,
flinging himself into Tim Jessie's knees from behind, after the whistle.
Jessie, a Winnipeg running back, was unhurt, and the subsequent penalty
kept alive a Bomber drive that ended, on the next play, with Winnipeg's
Salisbury delivered some thrills of his own for the Bombers, connecting
with wideout James Murphy on a 71-yard completion in the first quarter and
on a 35-yard touchdown in the second. B.C.'s Dunigan and Williams were
less spectacular, although they combined for a 26-yard TD strike in the
second quarter. At the half the Lions held a 15-14 lead.
Besides their formidable
offensive weapons, the Lions brought to Ottawa something that had CFL
image makers cringing: the franchise's shaky financial history. The league
lost at least $5 million this season, and the Lions accounted for $2.5
million of that red ink. Not that losing money in the CFL is anything to
be ashamed of—six of the league's eight teams did that in '88.
Reversing those losses has been the job of Doug Mitchell, the CFL's
castor-oil commissioner, whose unpleasant medicine may have saved the
league. In 1986 he imposed an "expense cap" of $3 million on each team,
which meant that players on some clubs—most notably, the Lions—took pay
The Lions were philosophical about the fiscal distractions. Says Kevin
Konar, a linebacker who had two of B.C.'s four sacks on Sunday, "At some
point, you have to say, Well, if I quit, what else am I going to do?"
The Lions had a harder time coping with their frustrations in the second
half against Winnipeg. Dunigan, Canada's best quarterback, is now 1-2 in
three consecutive Grey Cup appearances. On Sunday he failed to mount much
of anything in the second half, allowing Winnipeg kicker Trevor Kennerd to
dominate the scoring with two of his four field goals. Dunigan was
intercepted at the Bombers' seven-yard line with six minutes to play.
Then, in the waning moments—and with his club needing a mere "single" to
tie the game—he saw two of his passes knocked away and a third fall
Lots of critical plays. A one-point game. No one left Lansdowne Park
early. The organizers of that annual January rout known as the Super Bowl
would trade their halftime for what the CFL had on Sunday: a big finish.