There’s no sin worse in professional sports than to be losing and boring at the same time.
Sadly, this was the fate of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the late 1940s as the club struggled to a 3-9 record in 1948 and a 2-12 mark in 1949. On top of that, the Bombers managed just a measly 5.3 points per game in 1949, being shut out twice and held to just one point in three of the seven games at old Osborne Stadium.
Attendance was dwindling, as was interest in a team that was duller than dirt and a nightmare to watch.
Enter Bombers president Ralph Misener, who vowed to change things in a hurry for the 1950 season.
And his first target was a gifted athlete from the University of Oklahoma who had spent the previous seven years down south with the Los Angeles Rams, Washington Redskins and Green Bay Packers, bouncing from quarterback to defensive back to punter.
Jack Jacobs – who will be the lone addition in 2017 to the Insurance Brokers Association of Manitoba’s Ring of Honour at Investors Group Field – had attempted only 16 passes with the Packers in 1949 and was itching for the chance to showcase the skills that had made him a star in college.
Misener, as the story goes, got word of how unhappy Jacobs was and made him an offer: $6,000 per season and the guarantee he would play quarterback. It was a deal Jacobs signed while sitting at Misener’s dining room table, and one the franchise never regretted.
Jacobs didn’t just fill the skies with passes – he became the first quarterback in pro football to throw for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in a season (3,248 and 33 in 1951) – he made the Bombers the talk of the town again.
The club had averaged just 4,414 fans in seven home games in 1949, but with Jacobs putting on his aerial display – and the aid of other imports like Tom Casey, Buddy Tinsley, Bill Kelley, John Brown, and Ed Henke – the Bombers improved to 10-4 in 1950 and saw their average attendance climb to 8,022 in a building with an unofficial capacity of 7,800. The Bombers went to the Grey Cup that November, but fell 13-0 to the Toronto Argonauts in the infamous Mud Bowl.
Still, Jacobs & Co. had not only made the Bombers sexy again, his passing exploits meant that crowds across the Western Interprovincial Football Union grew substantially. Winnipeg averaged 9,413 in attendance in 1951 as fans jammed into every nook and cranny of the old building, located just west of the Manitoba Legislature on the site of the current Great-West Life building.
It was Jacobs’ exploits that helped grow momentum for the construction of a new stadium – Winnipeg Stadium at Polo Park – which opened in 1953 with a capacity of 15,700. Fittingly, it was dubbed ‘The House that Jack Built.’
Here’s an excerpt from the Bombers historical book ‘Blue & Gold’ – this segment written by the iconic Bob Picken – about Jacobs and his impact:
‘He broke the huddle with a clap of his hands, and sized up the opposition alignment as his teammates fanned out into the spread formation. His demeanor was confident and purposeful. His lips curled into a scowl, and then he barked his signals. He took the snap, pumped once and fired his pass with deadly accuracy.
This was the quarterback who changed the complexion of Canadian football forever. This was the player who electrified football crowds across the West and lifted the game to a new level. This was the man with the golden arm who had the sole intention of hitting his passing targets, and winning with an aerial bombardment.
This was Jack Jacobs, and he was something special.’
The Bombers went 46-27-3 with Jacobs at the controls, appearing in two Grey Cups (1950 and 1953) but losing both, and by the time he left the team in 1956 to become the head coach and quarterback of the London Lords of the Ontario Rugby Football Union, he was both the Bombers and the WIFU’s all-time leading passer.
“You had to go all out when Jake was the quarterback,” said Casey of his former backfield mate. “He had no patience with players who were not concentrating, or lacked motivation.
“He had an intense passion for the game, and his passing ability was remarkable.”
When the Canadian Football Hall of Fame opened its doors for the first time in 1963, Jacobs was part of its inaugural class of inductees. Ditto for the Winnipeg Football Club Hall of Fame, which opened in 1984. Jacobs, who passed away in 1974, is also a member of the American Indian Athletic Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame and the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
The Bombers unveiled a scholarship in honour of Jacobs – the Jack Jacobs Scholarship – in 2017, to be awarded to an Indigenous high school student who ‘fosters a passion for football and has plans to pursue a post-secondary education.’
The first two recipients are Rain Slater of the St. John’s Tigers and Jaden Pashe of Pilot Mound Collegiate.
Photo Courtesy of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers