The day Winnipeg brought honour to the west

by George Siamandas

On Sunday afternoon December 7, 1935 Winnipeg won its very first Grey Cup scoring 18-12 against Hamilton's fearsome Tigers later called the Tiger Cats. The game was played in Hamilton before 9,000 wild-eyed Hamilton fans. Hamilton was favoured to win having earned 5 Grey Cups. The Tigers had a very strong defence and expected to trounce Winnipeg. But Winnipeg proved even stronger allowing only 2 completions on 13 pass attempts.

In Winnipeg fans huddled together listening to the game on the old big tube radios. But by game's end they spilled out onto Portage Avenue in great celebration. The star of the game was 145 pound Fritz Hanson known as the "Golden Ghost." Hanson ran for 300 yards including a 75-yard runback that clinched the game. On the last play of the game, Winnipeg held back Hamilton on the Winnipeg 4 yard line. It marked the west's first win of the Grey Cup.

There were several teams in the east and the west. Winnipeg's team was called the Winnipeg Rugby Football Club or the "Winnipegs" and Joe Ryan had founded it in 1930. There were 15 players then. Players wore only shoulder pads and leather helmets without mouth guards. They played the year on a budget of $7,500 provided by a group of Winnipeg businessmen. Winnipeg had a very strong rivalry with Regina and had beat Regina and Calgary to make it to the 1935 Grey Cup.

Winnipeg had been one of the first football clubs to import American College players. It had a few Canadian players like Eddie James, Lou Adelman and Lou Magee. But most its firepower came from the US. Guys like Fritz Hanson from North Dakota, quarterback Russ Rebholtz, Bud Marquardt from Minnesota, Greg Kabat and Bert Oja. Hanson the playing coach was quarterback and had signed to play for Winnipeg for slightly less than what the New York Giants of the NFL had offered plus a new overcoat for Winnipeg's winters.

The rules were quite different then. It made for a much more wide-open game. You could not block on punt returns or downfield. All teams had playing coaches because the coach could not send in plays from the bench. In order to prepare for the game away from Winnipeg's snow, and more importantly, away from Hamilton spies, Winnipeg held their practises in Detroit. Ironically Detroit had even more snow than Winnipeg.

At the time of the win they were the Winnipegs or the Winnipeg Rugby Football Club. The next day's newspapers referred to the Blue Warriors of Winnipeg, but it was writers Vince Leah and Ralph Allen that called them the Blue Bombers after that game, and by the following year the Blue Bombers name caught on.

Surprisingly many American players stayed. Marquardt worked as a clerk at the Bay, Oja became a dentist, Hanson served in the Canadian army and then worked in radio and sales. In the middle of the great depression professional football came into being in Canada. And that 1935 win built a lot of spirit for Winnipeg. Winnipeg remained a contender reaching many Grey Cup finals after that first great win in Hamilton.


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