'Top league in the world': Ex-Bombers head coach Dave Ritchie grateful for CFL Hall of Fame nod

Former Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Dave Ritchie is among the 2022 Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductees being honoured at halftime when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats host the Bombers Saturday at Tim Hortons Field.

1994 Grey Cup champ among 8 inductees being honoured at Bombers-Ticats game Saturday

Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Dave Ritchie holds a football in his right arm and a piece of yellow paper in his other as he gestures and shouts instructions from the sideline during practice.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Dave Ritchie shouts out instructions during practice in 2001 before the 89th Grey Cup game against the Calgary Stampeders. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Dave Ritchie will forever be a part of CFL history.

Ritchie was the head coach of the B.C. Lions when they defeated the Baltimore Stallions 26-23 in the 1994 Grey Cup on Lui Passaglia's game-ending 38-yard field goal at B.C. Place. It marked the first championship in pro football history to feature a U.S.-Canada matchup.

"Just that alone, to me, makes our youngsters special," Ritchie recollected Thursday. "For one week, everybody on our ballclub was a Canadian."

But the greatest accolade of Ritchie's tenure north of the border will come Friday when he's formally inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

"It means a great deal because I believe the CFL is the top league in the world," Ritchie said. "I'd get into a big-time argument, but the athletes I had in the secondary and linebacker position, almost every one of them is in a Hall of Fame somewhere, whether it's British Columbia, Winnipeg or the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

"How can you lose when you have great youngsters around you? I might've been a little off the wall sometimes but I did have some great players. I also had many great coaches."

Inductees to be honoured on Saturday

Quarterback Ricky Ray and linebacker Chip Cox — both in their first years of eligibility — kicker Paul McCallum, fullback Tim Tindale and two-way star Dick Thornton will all be inducted as players. Joining Ritchie in the builder category will be longtime team executive Roy Shivers and Calgary Colts founder Keith Evans.

The inductees will also be honoured Saturday at halftime when the Hamilton Tiger-Cats host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Saturday at Tim Hortons Field.

Ritchie, 84, of New Bedford, Mass., spent 11 of his 22 CFL seasons as a head coach with B.C. (1993-95), Montreal (1997-98) and Winnipeg (1999-04). He won 108-of-187 career regular-season games to stand seventh all-time.

Ritchie also earned Grey Cup rings as an assistant with Winnipeg (1990) and B.C. (2006).

Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer faced many Ritchie-coached teams as a Hall of Fame defensive back with Ottawa (1996), the Ticats (1997-2000) and Toronto (2001-08). He said a staple of Ritchie's squads was their preparedness.

"When he was in Montreal, it was real simple: You better stop the run," Steinauer said. "Here they're coming with [Mike] Pringle and [Canadian Michael] Soles right at you and then you add [quarterback Tracy] Ham to the mix.

"When I came into the league, Dave Ritchie's name was one of those that was associated with the league and longevity of it. A ton of respect. Congratulations, long overdue for Dave Ritchie, for sure."

Wally Buono, left, and Dave Ritchie, right, smile as they hold the Grey Cup trophy between them.
Calgary Stampeders coach Wally Buono, left and Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach Dave Ritchie hold the Grey Cup prior to the 2001 championship game in Montreal. Ritchie learned the news about his Hall of Fame induction from Buono, his longtime friend. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Ritchie received news of his induction from good friend Wally Buono, the Hall of Fame coach with Calgary and B.C.

"I didn't give [Hall of Fame] much thought after a bit because sometimes you get lost in the shuffle after a while," Ritchie said. "I did get a nice phone call from Wally who told my wife, 'Tell Dave I have some good news and some bad news.'

"I figured I'd get the bad news out of the way before I got the good news if there was any. He said, 'You're going to have to fly into Hamilton.' I said, 'I'm not getting into an airplane, Wally,' so I drove."

Sight for sore eyes

After making the long trek from Rhode Island, Ritchie saw a sight for sore eyes: former defensive back Less Browne, who played for Ritchie in B.C.

"It was quite a ride," Ritchie said. "But the first [person] I saw when I got here was one of the greatest defensive backs in CFL history and I had just a little bit to do with it, Mr. Less Browne.

"That made my day. Having my wife with me always makes my day. Our children are coming up and that will make my day. I'm really happy. I don't think anyone really worries about an award so I would not worry. I just figured whatever I did, I hope it was enough."

A smiling Dave Ritchie stands while surrounded by kneeling players.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach Dave Ritchie addresses his players during a practice before the 2001 Grey Cup game. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

As fate would have it, Ritchie will be inducted on the same weekend Winnipeg visits Hamilton. What's more, Bombers quarterback Zach Collaros played his college football at Ritchie's alma mater — the University of Cincinnati.

"He [Collaros] went to one of the greatest universities in all of America," Ritchie said with a chuckle. "Got to get that punch in there and I had another one from there, Danny Barrett.

"But that [Winnipeg being in Hamilton during induction weekend] was the second thing Wally told me. I think I think when you get older you appreciate things more."

Ritchie said he's still getting over a fall he had about three months ago that resulted in a back injury and also aggravated a neck ailment he sustained while playing football at Cincinnati.

"But you know what? It's so nice to be on this side of the dirt," he said.


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