It’s the end of a legendary run.
After nearly five decades as the voice of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Bob Irving will fittingly call his final game when the Blue and Gold take on their long-time rivals, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, in the CFL’s West Final Sunday.
The legendary play-by-play man’s last call comes less than a month after he surprised many in Winnipeg with news he would be stepping away from the game at the end of the season.
“Bob is the Winnipeg Blue Bombers,” said Buck Pierce, who has been interviewed by Irving countless times as the Bombers’ former quarterback and current offensive coordinator.
“He probably, you know, he wouldn’t like me saying that …. But he is, he’s the fabric of this franchise.”
Irving has worked at 680 CJOB since 1973, and has been broadcasting Blue Bomber games since getting his start on the station’s game-day broadcasting team during the 1974 CFL season.
Like the Winnipeg fans who will instantly recognize his voice, Irving has followed the Bombers through decades of ups and downs, and is so close to the team that they gave him his very own Grey Cup ring when they brought home the league’s top prize in 2019.
He is such a part of the team the press box at IG Field — the Bob Irving Media Centre — is even named in his honour.
“It was just so natural and so easy to have a conversation with him, which, you know, told the stories of our players, our coaches throughout the years in a very unique way,” says Bombers president and CEO, Wade Miller, who was first interviewed by Irving when he played the team in the 1990s.
“Whether you’re on the tractor on the farm, whether you’re sitting around a campfire, whether you’re at a cottage, whether you’re driving in the city for a home or away game, that’s who you’ve listened to about Bomber football.
“We’re just lucky that we all had him for as long as we did.”
Since announcing his retirement Nov. 9, the famously humble 71-year-old broadcaster has had to endure a seemingly endless stream accolades from loyal fans — players, coaches, listeners and colleagues alike — and within weeks had been awarded a community service award from Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman.
The Blue Bombers have also announced plans to induct Irving into the team’s Ring of Honour at a special ceremony before Sunday’s game.
“I can only imagine what’s it’s been like for him, he must hate it,” laughed his son Kyle Irving, during a call in to 680 CJOB to talk about his dad’s retirement.
‘I’ve loved every minute of what I’ve done’
Born in Lestock, Sask., Irving developed his lifelong love of the Canadian Football League while growing up in Regina.
When he marked his 800th game in October of 2018, Irving recalled how a chance meeting with then-CJOB sports director, Ken “Friar” Nicolson, turned out to be a life-changing experience.
The pair met in the parking lot of the Grey Owl golf tournament in the summer of 1973, and shortly after the conversation, Nicolson hired Bob to join the CJOB sports department.
Within a year, Irving — known affectionately as ‘Knuckles’ over a healthy aversion to flying — joined the likes of Cactus Jack Wells and Jack Matheson on the Blue Bomber broadcasts.
All these years later, Irving says working in sports broadcasting was a dream come true.
“I’ve loved every minute of what I’ve done … particularly covering the football and particularly being the voice of the Blue Bombers,” he told 680 CJOB as he announced his retirement.
“Doing the play-by-play is a blast and I can’t even put it into words — there’s no way I could convey to people how enjoyable that is.”
But behind the scenes and between games, Irving also goes to every Blue Bombers’ practice, watching scrimmages and collecting daily interviews with players and coaches.
While fans will miss his low, gravely calls on game days, those who’ve been interviewed by Irving marvel at the way he could ask the right questions in just the right way.
“You have some media pundits who come in here like, ‘So what happened on his way? Why did you do that?’” remembers former Bomber Milt Stegall.
“Bob will come in and say, ‘OK, hopefully you don’t mind me asking you this question. But you know it’s a tough one, but it has to be asked.
“You knew when you talked to Bob, you were talking to somebody who was respected and who was also respecting you.”
Irving’s meticulous coverage of games and passion for the CFL earned him countless awards through the years.
He is a member of the Manitoba Sportswriters and Sportscasters Media Roll of Honour, the Football Reporters of Canada wing of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, and was made a member of the Order of Manitoba in 2014.
Irving was also presented with the Hugh Campbell Distinguished Leadership Award in 2015, an honour given annually by the CFL to the “individual who has strengthened the league, Canadian football, along with solidifying their place in Canada’s sports culture.”
“He’s got one of these Pentium processors in his head because he’s able to absorb this information and frame it for everybody in such a short amount of time,” said former Bomber Doug Brown, who has has been doing game-day broadcasts with Irving since 2012.
Brown describes sitting down to call a Bomber game with Irving as getting “to play ice hockey on a pond with Wayne Gretzky.”
“He paints a picture and he illustrates things verbally better than anyone in the business,” Brown says.
“You know you’re not going to be on this level, so don’t even try.”
While he says he would love to continue calling games — and hints he may still call into CJOB now and then — Irving says now just feels like the right moment to pass on the torch.
“People ask me why, it’s just time. That’s all,” he said.
“Having a chance to do play-by-play and be the voice of the Blue Bombers has been a true honour for me.”
— with files from Sharon Pfeifer, Kelly Moore and Sam Thompson
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