Johnny Gardiner

Johnny Gardiner (far right) with Winnipeg's 1949 imports

Johnny Gardiner (far right) gathers with other Winnipeg Blue Bombers imports before start of 1949 season. 

John W. Gardiner
Born: (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Died: April 1, 2015 (Petaluma, California)

Johnny Gardiner was a decorated military veteran signed as an import to be first-string quarterback of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 1949.

John Gardiner (newspaper mug)The Bombers were in a rebuilding mode under freshman coach Frank (Butch) Larson and were depending on a lineup composed mostly of rookies.

The 5-foot-8, 176-pound pivot was also making his professional debut after having resumed an college career interrupted by war.

“Johnny Gardiner is a fine passer, fast, nifty and has a fighting heart,” teammate Bob (Bobo) Sandberg told the Winnipeg Free Press before the season started.

Gardiner also impressed the football writer of the Winnipeg Free Press in preseason exhibition games.

“We doubt if he can pass the ball as far as Calgary’s Keith Spaith, but he can certainly pitch ’em to a spot with quickness and accuracy that was somewhat of an eye opener to this observer,” wrote sports columnist Maurice Smith.

Gardiner suffered a nagging shoulder injury early in the season and the Bombers suffered one of the worst campaigns in club history. The team finished 2-12 to finish last of four teams in the Western Interprovincial Football Union. The Bombers scored only 74 points all season, an average of just 5.3 points per game.

Gardiner finally played a full, 60-minute game against the Edmonton Eskimos, a 13-6 loss in the Alberta capital on Oct. 22. The quarterback “handled the team pretty well,” wrote Smith of the Winnipeg Free Press. “At least he had it running smoothly even if his choice of plays were, on occasion, not too wise.” On defence, Gardiner intercepted a pass in his own end zone, only to have the referees rule pass interference, a call disputed by Winnipeg’s sports writers. The Eskimos soon after scored the game-winning points.

The only Bomber victories on the season were a 13-8 win over the Regina Roughriders and an 8-6 triumph over the Edmonton Eskimos, both coming at Osborne Stadium in Winnipeg.

Born in Minneapolis, Minn., Gardiner played left half for the University of Minnesota Gophers in 1941 and ’42. He then enlisted, flying bombing missions over Occupied Europe while posted with the No. 547 Squadron of the Royal Air Force. He received two Distinguished Flying Crosses, as well as an Air Medal with three Oak leaf Clusters.

After the war, he played with the Boilermakers at Purdue University before completing his degree in commercial sciences at Montana State University, by which time he had become a quarterback.

He missed three games in 1949 because of injury. In one of those, he stood in the rooftop press box at Osborne Stadium armed with a walkie-talkie, through which he scouted plays before relaying information to the Winnipeg bench. It was thought to be the first time a Canadian team had used a walkie-talkie in this fashion.

After a season of professional football, he became a sales manager for the Parker Pen Co. in Janesville, Wis. He later operated his own eponymous company offering business services in California.

Gardiner was a resident of Novato, Calif., at the time of his death, at age 92. He leaves a son, a daughter, five grandchildren, a great grandson, and a sister. He was predeceased by his wife, Eileen; a son; and, a brother. His surviving son, Russ Gardiner, was a founder of Promark Inc., a national promotional advertising agency.

Blue Bombers going rookie in grand rebuilding program (Johnny Gardiner)(Ottawa Citizen, Aug. 4, 1949)

(Ottawa Citizen, August 4, 1949)

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