The year was 1963, the location was Winnipeg Stadium, and young Bob Thomson wasn’t feeling too hot.
Thomson, “seven or eight years old” at the time, was standing at the very back row of the stadium’s family section; he and his family had been given tickets by Bombers offensive lineman Cornel Piper, who lived down his street.
“They were bleachers you’d see at a community ballpark, with metal rods at the back,” remembered Thomson some 50-plus years later. “I got dizzy, and fell out of the stands — I had an inner-ear infection — and Ernie Pitts caught me as I fell.”
Ernie Pitts, Canadian Football Hall of Fame Class of 2019.
“That’s the kind of receiver he was,” chuckled Thomson in retrospect. “It was 15-, 20-feet high!”
Thus began a life-long love affair between Thomson and the Bombers — and by extension, the Canadian Football League.
Earlier this month, Bob Thomson — now 62 years old, a retired teacher in Winnipeg — won the CFL’s Predict the Pick contest, which ran in line with the CFL Draft.
By successfully predicting six of eight draft picks, Thomson won $1,000.
He waffled back and forth over certain picks — who would go to Hamilton at No. 2, and where the O-line duo of Zach Wilkinson and Drew Desjarlais would land — but ultimately hit on 75 per cent of his picks: Enough to win the contest.
“Truthfully I should have had eight out of eight,” chuckled Thomson. “I forgot (Jesse) Gibbon was a Hamilton guy, otherwise I would’ve put him at 2 and (Drew) Desjarlais at 4, and would have had eight of eight.”
The best part of Thomson’s win, however, is that he’s a regular joe.
“I’m not a professional gambler in Vegas, or fantasy player that’s doing analytics,” he chuckled. “I’m just an interested fan who wanted to have some fun with this.”
Tips were there to be had: Reports early on draft day said the Argos had flown in offensive lineman Shane Richards, while GM Marcel Desjardins and the Ottawa REDBLACKS stuck to their blueprint.
“It might be because of their draft history, or something I’d read on CFL.ca where they’re really predictable with their O-linemen,” explained Thomson. “For whatever reason, I put Fontana in at No. 7 and didn’t move him.”
When the time came, the physical force out of the University of Kansas was duly selected.
The 62 year-old from Winnipeg has a number of loose ties to the league; Ed Tait is an old friend, Chris Walby an occasional hockey opponent.
But the one name that Thomson wanted to highlight from his years around the CFL?
Shawn Coates, the former Bombers media relations director and CFL director of football operations who passed away at age 52 in 2015.
“When he became the media director, he came to me and said ‘I know your family situation, I got this great job with the Bombers — I’m going to give you my season tickets so you and Joan can bring the guys to games’.”
Bob and his wife Joan have four boys; eldest Caelan and youngest Riley are teachers, while middle twins Quinn and Brody have severe autism. Bob rarely gets the chance to get to Bombers games.
“For years, he gave us those tickets,” continued Thomson, pausing occasionally. “We had this great relationship, one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet.”
With a portion of his prize, he wants to create something in memory of Shawn Coates.
“He was a survivor, (and) the most interesting guy in the world,” reflected Thomson. “Milt Stegall had a quote.
“‘A lot of people think it’s nice to be important, but Shawn Coates was a guy who made it important to be nice.'”
Thomson hopes he can parlay his good fortune in Predict the Pick into a way to pay homage to one of his best friends.