Winnipeg Blue Bombers

- Winnipeg Stadium

Canada Inns Stadium -

 

The Winnipeg Stadium after 1972 seat expansion

-

Nov. 19, 1972 Abendschan boots Blue in stadium's greatest game

Adam Wazny

Winnipeg Free Press - Sep 30 2011

 

LET'S start with this: more than a few around the Blue Bombers' offices are still waiting for a different ending, some 40 years later.

The hometown team might want to argue the fact -- given the disappointing score and the events that led to the outcome -- but the 1972 West Division final between Winnipeg and the Saskatchewan Roughriders could be considered as the greatest game to ever grace the surface of Winnipeg/Canad Inns Stadium.

All the 'big game' elements were present that day.

 

Two Prairie rivals squaring off for a chance to play in the Grey Cup; quarterback star power with Winnipeg's Don Jonas and Saskatchewan's Ron Lancaster at the controls; and a memorable football finish that could only happen in Canada.

The Bombers entered the contest as the class of the Western Conference with a 10-6 record. They jumped out to a 21-7 lead at halftime, much to the delight of the 19,534 in attendance, and appeared poised to avenge the playoff loss to the Riders a season ago.

But then Winnipeg linebacker Mickey Doyle suffered a broken leg. His injury gave the Riders ground game life, with running back George Reed taking advantage of Doyle's absence. He had 26 carries for 156 yards and two touchdowns.

 

Saskatchewan cut the lead to 24-14 heading into the final 15 minutes, and roared back with 10 unanswered points -- including a Reed major with 3:24 left to play -- to square the affair.

 

And then it got interesting.

 

Riders kicker Jack Abendschan misses a field goal as no time is left on the clock. Mike Law, knowing he can't allow the single point under any circumstances, promptly boots the ball out of the end zone and back into the field of play. "I got it off as fast as I could," Law told the Free Press after the game.

"Did it have a spiral on it?"

 

Lancaster picks up the pigskin and launches a punt back into the Winnipeg end. His kick is picked up by Paul Williams, who quickly punts the ball back to roughly the Bombers 30-yard line, where the Rider returner eventually gets tackled.

Overtime, right? Wrong.

 

Amid the craziness, Winnipeg gets flagged for a no-yards penalty, an infraction to the defensive team that allows Abendschan a second chance at glory. He punches through a 32-yard field goal to give Saskatchewan a 27-24 victory.

 

"I missed the big one but they gave me two chances," Abendschan said after the game. "As I was running back into position, I pass (Winnipeg's Rob McLaren) and said: 'You gave me one too many chances.'"

 

The memorable loss, though devastating at the time for the Bombers and their fan base, has actually had a positive impact on Winnipeg's post-season play at home. Since that game, the Bombers have a 14-6 playoff record at Winnipeg/Canad Inns Stadium.

 

Miracle on Maroons Road

Adam Wazny

Winnipeg Free Press - Aug 26 2011
 

No one, near as we can tell, ever referred to Winnipeg/Canad Inns Stadium as 'picturesque,' a 'cathedral' or a 'grand ol lady.'

It was never held in the same high regard as Yankee Stadium or the Montreal Forum or the Boston Garden -- sporting shrines every one of them -- or even revered or romanticized like Empire Stadium in Vancouver or Edmonton's Commonwealth Stadium.

 

It was and remains, in one word, functional.

 

And now the building's last days are upon us.

 

The home of the Blue Bombers since 1953, the stadium will meet the wrecking ball after this season as the football club moves into its news home at the University of Manitoba to open the 2012 campaign. There are potholes in the parking lot, leaks in the ceiling and coats upon coats of paint covering up some serious imperfections.

But the stadium has given its patrons some wonderful moments over close to six decades -- particularly in sports and entertainment -- and during this Bombers season The Free Press will revisit some of the more memorable moments and experiences housed in the old ball yard.

 

Call it our farewell to the 58-year-old facility that has served so well.

 

COMEBACK KOPP

Sept. 13, 1998

At the time, it was the greatest come-from-behind victory the Blue Bombers had ever cobbled together in front of the home crowd.

 

The club's 36-35 last-second win over the Saskatchewan Roughriders had all the elements needed for a memorable comeback. Despair, resignation, anger, momentum switches and, of course, that glimmer of hope -- the latter presented in the form of an unknown quarterback -- were all accounted for in this game, which is why it still remains as one of the more memorable productions ever acted out at the stadium.

 

Players and fans danced on the field afterwards.

 

Some likened it to winning the Grey Cup.

"It's a time when emotions run wild, and that's what you get when you've waited so long to taste victory," Bombers centre Dave Vankoughnett told the Free Press after the game.

 

Yes, what made this comeback special, outside the 18-point deficit or the beating of a prairie rival, were the circumstances surrounding it. Ten straight losses to open the '98 campaign begged for some success in this market, and when coach Jeff Reinebold finally asked a quarterback named Troy Kopp (pictured) to replace T.J. Rubley with just under four minutes left to play in the third quarter and the Bombers down 28-10, those prayers were finally acknowledged.

For one game, anyway.

 

Kopp's first drive was a 13-play, 105-yard march for a touchdown. His second chance with the football: Another touchdown.

See where this is going?

 

"I was just trying to get a little spark out there for everybody, let them know, 'Don't worry if the new guy's out here. Who cares if he's new,'" Kopp told reporters. "And everybody just seemed to kind of rally around me."

 

Not everybody.

 

You know that instant feeling of regret when you leave a game early and the stadium roars as you slide into the car? No doubt more than a few of the 23,726 felt that on this day.

 

The former Arena League pivot finished 11-of-15 for 171 yards, two scores and the win, an outcome made possible by a 74-yard punt return by Eric Blount that put the Bombers on the Riders 10-yard line with 30 seconds to go.

 

Two plays and a convert from Troy Westwood later, and Winnipeg picked up its first win of the season.

Miracle accomplished. Winnipeg improved to 1-10 on the year.

 

The 18-point comeback wasn't the largest deficit overcome by the Bombers at home, though. Last season, quarterback Steven Jyles erased a 21-point disadvantage in the fourth quarter, leading the Bombers to a 47-35 overtime victory against B.C. on Thanksgiving Day.

 

That sparked a flash of celebration. It was gone just as fast as it came.

 

The one Troy Kopp put together was a sign of the times -- a relief that allowed a fan base and a team to exhale in an era of suffocating paper bag masks and distant hope. And it serves the memory well.