Hall of Famer
Inducted in 1975
Grey Cup, Winnipeg Blue Bombers - manager
Canadian Rugby Union plaque
Grey Cup, Montreal Alouettes - manager
Inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame
Joe Ryan was the first man to manage three different teams in what is now the Canadian Football League. But his greatest contribution to Canadian football came from the effort he put into recruiting the best Prairie talents regardless of which side of the Canada-U.S. border they hailed. His use of "import" players revolutionized the game and put western Canadian teams on an equal footing with their eastern counterparts in the annual Grey Cup games. Although born in Canada, Ryan spent much of the 1920s working in the U.S. mid-west. He returned to Winnipeg in 1927 to work as a bookkeeper with the Manitoba Wheat Pool, but he was never far removed from the local football scene. By 1931 he had become the unpaid manager of the Winnipeg Rugby Club, which competed locally against the St. John's Club. He was also the football columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. In 1932, Ryan convinced the two teams to merge in the interests of fielding a side that would be more competitive for the Grey Cup. The Winnipeg Football Club, soon to be better known as the Blue Bombers, was formed. They played in 1933 with three players imported from the U.S. but lost the Grey Cup semi-final to the Toronto Argonauts. The following season was even less successful, with the deepening Prairie depression only making the situation worse. The year 1935 was a watershed year. Ryan, who was by now Canada's first full-time football team manager, organized a group of local backers to invest $7,500 in the club. He used the money to import nine players from U.S. college ranks, the biggest star being Fritz Hanson. That year, Winnipeg played the Hamilton Tigers for the Grey Cup, and the Bombers' 18-12 victory represented the first time that a western Canadian challenger had captured Canada's most prestigious football trophy. The squad assembled by Ryan continued to dominate Canadian football. The Blue Bombers represented the west again in the Grey Cup games of 1937 and 1938, falling both times to the Toronto Argonauts. But Winnipeg recaptured the Cup in 1939 and again in 1941, both victories coming at Ottawa's expense. During the years he was involved in Winnipeg football, Ryan served as the western representative on the Canadian Rugby Union's rules committee. It was through this body that he helped shape Canadian football and its policies on importing non-Canadian players. As a result of the war, the Blue Bombers suspended operations in 1942, and Ryan headed to Montreal to take a job with the federal income tax department. Before he left, however, Ryan was the guest of honour at a farewell dinner, during which he was made a life member of the Winnipeg Football Club. (In 1958, he was also made the first life member of the Blue Bomber Alumni Association.) While in Montreal, he became associated with Lew Heyman, Leo Dandurand, and Eric Cradock who were trying to revive football in the city. Ryan joined the newly formed Montreal Alouettes as general manager and recruited the talent that would form the core of Montreal's 1949 Grey Cup-winning team. After Cradock sold his interest in the Alouettes, Ryan joined his Toronto brokerage firm. In 1960, however, he was offered the position of general manager in Edmonton. The club lost the Grey Cup Game in his first season as head of the team, and he remained with the Eskimos until 1963. Eighteen years earlier, in 1945, he had been awarded a plaque by the Canadian Rugby Union for his service to football. He was also honoured for contributions of the game with induction into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.