the thousands of men who have carried the ball in the Canadian Football League,
only five had run for more yards than the great Leo Lewis at the time of
his induction. Even though his career ended nearly forty years ago, the “Lincoln Locomotive” still ranked sixth all time in CFL rushing with 8,861 yards. His
astonishing 6.6 yards per carry was the best ever among CFL backs.
Born in Des Moines, Iowa, he moved with his family to St. Paul as an infant. He played his college football at the University of Lincoln, in Jefferson City, Missouri before coming to Canada in 1955 and making himself into a legend. Yet for all his accomplishments he retained his modesty. “Sixth all time?” he said with genuine surprise. “I thought I’d be about twenty something by now.”
Even in his days as a player Lewis was less concerned with his own numbers than in the big picture. “I wasn’t too interested in individual glory. I was more interested in team glory. If what I did helped us win then it was important. If I had a great game and we lost it (the individual glory) wasn’t important to me.”
Leo Lewis joined the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1955. After missing the ’56 season with an ankle injury, he embarked on a nine-year journey through CFL defences. By the time he was through, he ranked third all time in rushing yardage and when he retired was the League’s all time leader in kickoff return yardage. He stood fourth on that list with a stunning 29.1 yard average per return. He also knew how to find the end zone, scoring seventy-five career touchdowns.
A six-time Western All Star, he was named to the All Canadian All Star team in 1962. Not surprisingly, he receives the highest praise from those who knew him best. “He was a quarterback’s best friend” says former Blue Bomber great Ken Ploen. “It didn’t matter what you asked him to do he’d do it to the best of his ability. He was there all the time. He never complained. He was a true professional.” Lewis was perhaps the most exciting player of his time; dashing and darting, running outside and cutting back in. “He was the best football player we ever had” according to veteran sports writer Jack Matheson. “I liked everything Leo did.”
After a knee injury finished his career in 1966, Lewis returned to the University of Lincoln where he spent more than thirty years, coaching and teaching. “I really enjoyed Winnipeg. I enjoyed the people. They made me feel like I was home.”
Leo Lewis helped to create one of the CFL’s great dynasties as the Bombers captured four Grey Cups in a five-year span. He is a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and the U. S. Collegiate Hall of Fame, and was selected as one of the top 20 All-Time Blue Bombers in 2005.
b. February 4, 1933