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August 21, 2008

Jacobs: The house that Jack built

Bob Irving
Special to CFL.ca

The 1950’s was one of the more memorable decades in the now 78-year history of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.  It ended with the highly successful Bud Grant era in full bloom, and it started with the charismatic and dynamic Indian Jack Jacobs wowing crowds in Winnipeg and across the entire Canadian Football League (or Canadian Rugby Union as it was called).

Jacobs was a proud, full-blooded Cherokee who was a star at the University of Oklahoma before spending eight years in the National Football League.  Jacobs believed his quarterback talents were never fully appreciated in his NFL stops in Cleveland, Washington and Green Bay.  It was a time when salaries in the the U.S. and Canada were comparable, so when Blue Bomber president Ralph Misener offered him the handsome sum of $6,000 a year, along with a promise that he would play quarterback and no other position, Jacobs decided to move north of the border.  

Jacobs was an electrifying talent, his strong arm and pinpoint passes changing the very face of the Canadian game.  Not only did Jacobs bring an aerial circus to Canadian football, he was also a superb punter, and his intensity on the field brought out the best in his teammates.

The Blue Bombers had finished with a 2-12 record in 1949, but with Jacobs leading the way, the Bombers were 10-4 and finished first in the West in 1950.

The Western Interprovincial Football Union featured a best-of-three final in those days, and the Bombers lost a 17-16 thriller to Edmonton in the first game of the series.   The Bombers won game two by a 22-12 score and then routed the Eskimos 29-6 in the third and deciding game as Jacobs scored two touchdowns and punted for nearly a 50-yard average.

The decisive victory set up another Winnipeg-Toronto Grey Cup game (they had met six previous times in the 1930’s and 40’s with Toronto winning all six), and the 1950 Grey Cup Championship produced one of the Bombers all-time major disappointments.

The 1950 Grey Cup game was played at Toronto’s Varsity stadium in some of the worst playing conditions on record.  It had rained and snowed for weeks in Toronto and the Varsity Stadium playing surface had turned into a sea of slippery mud.

Jacobs fumbled twice, setting up a pair of Toronto Field Goals.  Jacobs also had a punt blocked, which led to the Argos only touchdown by Al Dekdebrun as Toronto posted a 13-0 victory.

The game was dubbed the “Mud Bowl”; it was a total disaster for the Bombers and also included an incident that is still talked about by long-time followers of the Canadian game.  Blue Bomber defensive tackle Buddy Tinsley went down face first into a puddle of mud and water after a hit.  Referee Hec Crighton, afraid that Tinsley might drown, rolled him onto his back, presumably saving his life.  Tinsley has always insisted the incident was dramatized, that he was never in danger of drowning, but it made for a great story.

When the Bombers returned home from the 1950 Grey Cup debacle, Frank Larson was fired as head coach.  George Trafton and Al Sherman succeeded Larson with mixed success before Harry Peter “Bud” Grant took over in 1957 and led the Bombers into their Golden Era which featured four Grey Cup victories in a five year span from 1958 to 1962.

Jacobs would go on to play 4 more years for the Bombers before retiring in 1954.  His impact was such that the city of Winnipeg tore down rickety old Osborne Stadium, which was no longer big enough to house all the fans who came to watch Indian Jack perform his magic, and replaced it with a brand new facility, the present day Winnipeg Stadium.

The new facility was called “The House that Jack Built”, a lasting tribute to Indian Jack Jacobs, a man who electrified crowds and launched the trend of passing the football that has become such a hallmark of our Canadian game.