WINNIPEG - Former head coach Dave Ritchie doesn't have to think too long and hard when asked about the highlight of his six seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Ritchie coached the Bombers from 1999 to 2004, taking the team to the Grey Cup in 2001 after a first-place finish in the East and 14-4 season. They lost the Grey Cup that year to the Calgary Stampeders.
"Probably watching that 2001 team play," he picked as his high-water mark.
"(Quarterback) Khari Jones won I believe 12 games in a row. Then I rested a few guys. Probably if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't have rested those seven or eight guys."
The Bombers are inducting Ritchie, along with defensive linemen Tony Norman and Jim Heighton, into their Hall of Fame on Oct. 22 at the team's Legacy Dinner. Former Board member Bill Morton, who helped create the Hall of Fame, is also being inducted.
Ritchie was on the phone for the announcement from his home in the U.S. and says he still remembers how great that 2001 team was, with players like Jones and receiver Milt Stegall, both already in the Bombers Hall of Fame.
"I loved the players, I loved Winnipeg," he said. "Thank you very much."
He retired from the CFL in 2008, after being passed over for head coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders in favour of Ken Miller. Ritchie also coached the B.C. Lions for three seasons, winning a Grey Cup in 1994, and coached Montreal in 1997 and 1998, before taking over in Winnipeg.
He sits third on Winnipeg's list of most coaching wins at 52, behind Cal Murphy at 86 and the legendary Bud Grant at 102.
Heighton played for the Bombers from 1970 to 1978 and Norman from 1980 to 1986.
Norman says it was Grant, then coach of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings, who cut him at camp and set him up with the job in Winnipeg. After spending a decade leading the Bombers to four Grey Cup wins, Grant went on to coach the Vikings for a total of 18 seasons, with four losing trips to the Super Bowl.
"Monday morning Bud Grant said 'Norman, you had a pretty good game, but you really don't have a lot of football savvy so I'm going to send you to Winnipeg'," recalled Norman, who, like Murphy, was linked by phone.
"So I came to Winnipeg. I tell you, (coach) Ray Jauch and (general manager) Earl Lunsford, as you guys were talking about earlier, just welcomed me in with open arms. From 1980 to '86 it was an incredible ride."
His time included a Grey Cup win in 1984.
Heighton, who still lives on his farm on the edge of Winnipeg, played 141 games with the Bombers and was a two-time West all-star in 1972 and 1974. He said it was both moving and exciting to get the call.
"It was like 'wow', they'd forgotten me for so many years, I thought I'd just got buried and put away," he said.