Murphy’s legacy


Hundreds of jubilant Blue Bomber fans celebrated at Winnipeg’s famous corner of Portage and Main. Despite the frigid temperature, people shouted from car roof-tops, waved beer bottles and placards, and shook hands with anyone they met. From Portage and Main the crowd spilled over until it encompassed most of the downtown. Cars drove around and around the perimeter of the downtown area with fans of the football team hanging out windows cheering.
By the end of the celebration, 10 people had been arrested, but that did not dampen the enthusiasm of those remaining behind who weren’t taken by paddy wagon to the Public Safety Building.
Why the celebration? Well, after a 22 year-drought the Winnipeg Blue Bombers had finally recaptured the Grey Cup. In fact, it was done in decisive style with the Big Blue thumping the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 47-17 in Edmonton.
At the city’s watering holes, others shouted: “We’ve got the cup! We’ve got the cup!”
With the victory, the Bombers and their coach, Cal Murphy, became the toast of the town. Following his hiring  as the new Bomber coach by general manager Paul Robson, Murphy in two brief years had taken the team from the depths of dispair to the pinnacle of the Canadian Football League. Also in that time, he had replaced  perennial all-star quarterback Dieter Brock with Tom Clements. And it was Brock and the Ti-Cats that Clements and the Bombers faced in the 1984 Grey Cup game.
The game-changer came with Hamilton ahead 17-6. An errant Brock pass was picked off by cornerback David Shaw in the second quarter. A few plays later, Willard Reaves ran the ball into the Ti-Cat end zone from the four-yard line and the Bombers never looked back. In fact, Hamilton were not able to score another point in the ball game, while the Bombers racked up a total of 47.
Clements was chosen the most valuable player in the game, finishing with 20 completions in 29 attempts for 281 yards.
Amazingly, with the Bombers behind 14-0 in the first quarter, some began to question Murphy’s wisdom in keeping the then-struggling Clements in the game. Clements was suffering the effects of broken ribs incurred during the western final against the B.C. Lions. Clements had been in Winnipeg undergoing medical treatment just four days before the Grey Cup and his teammates were in Edmonton.
While Murphy decided Clements would be his starter after the go-ahead was given by medical staff, the quarterback lost a contact lens when he gained the Bomber’s initial first down after a two-yard plunge.
John Hufnagel came into the game as quarterback and completed an 18-yard pass to Pat Cantor, then an eight-yard pass to Sean Kehoe and handed off to Reaves for another 10-yard play. Hufnagel was moving the ball in replacement of an ineffective Clements.
Despite Hufnagel’s success, Murphy decided that Clements should return to the game. Once he returned, Clements then throw two incomplete passes. The drive started by Hufnagel died, and the Bombers had to settle for a 25-yard Trevor Kennard field goal.
Murphy stuck with Clements even when he l threw an interception during another series of plays.
Murphy later said he stuck with Clements to make the team’s game plan work. “We were trying to flood the wide zone and get the ball to our running backs. We needed Tom’s mobility to make it work. The thing you have to remember about Tom is he can get hot at any time. When he does, he can put a lot of points on the board in a hurry.”
That’s exactly what Clements did following the Shaw interception. Any second-guessing of Murphy’s decision to keep Clements in the game evaporated.
The Bomber’s first Grey Cup victory since 1962 made Murphy a hero back in Winnipeg, but the initial questioning of the coach’s decision seemed to follow Murphy as the years progressed. In essence, he had a love-hate relationship with Bomber fans until he was let go as the coach and director of football operations in 1996, following an embarrassing 68-7 loss to Edmonton. While some fans were less than charitable with Murphy during his last two years of directing the team, there is no question that he had built champions in the past and made some great decisions such as hiring Mike Riley as the Bomber’s head coach, while serving as the team’s general manager. With Riley as the coach, the Bombers won Grey Cups rings in 1988 and 1990.
But Riley left in 1990 to become the coach of the WLAF’s San Antonio Raiders. To replace him, Murphy made the disastrous decision to hire friend Darryl Rogers. With no other option, Murphy soon replaced Rogers.
In 1992, Murphy received a life-saving heart transplant and returned to lead the Bombers to the 1993 Grey Cup, which turned out to be a 33-23 loss to Edmonton. Murphy’s first losing season with the Bombers was a 7-11 record in 1995.
Whatever the fans thought of Murphy in the latter years with the Bombers, he was considered to be fair by the players and gave everything to build the franchise and did everything in his power to keep it from financial ruin.
Kennard told Free Press sports reporter Dave Supleve after it was announced that Murphy was being released that the coach had always put the team first and that he loved the man and would miss him. 
Murphy may have been noted as gruff, but the players held him in high esteem and afforded him great respect.
Everyone now agrees the legacy of Murphy was that he built winning teams. As one fan said after the 1984 Grey Cup victory, up to that point Winnipeg had been known as “loser-peg” and it was good to once again be in top spot in the CFL.
After Murphy left Winnipeg, it was the end of an exciting football era in the city. Essentially, Murphy had been the spark that reignited the city’s enthusiasm for their team. When the former Bomber coach passed away last weekend, fans remembered the man who provided new hope for a troubled franchise. Perhaps a few even remembered the day in 1984, when the downtown streets were filled with a cheering throng and “loser-peg” once again became “winner-peg.”