Legendary CFL quarterback Matt Dunigan set pro football passing record without knowing it

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ quarterback Matt Dunigan was in the ultimate zone.

It was Thursday, July 14, 1994 — a rematch of the 1993 Grey Cup (Edmonton vs. Winnipeg).

The game was not televised, but there are highlights.

Dunigan shredded Edmonton with his powerful right arm, but it wasn’t until the fourth quarter on that summer night when he found out his passing yardage total. Winnipeg’s public relations man Kevin O’Donovan let offensive coordinator Mike Kelly and head coach Cal Murphy know Dunigan was at 699 yards.

Kelly came down from the press box where he had been calling plays and had a short conversation with Murphy. The result of the game was going to be a Winnipeg victory, however, both men realized the opportunity to accomplish a feat never achieved before in pro football.

“Allan Boyko, who saw things like a quarterback — he’s just a cerebral receiver, a guy that you can trust — on second and long I just stuck it on him. He made a guy miss and got 14 yards and that was the end of the story,” Dunigan said on 630 CHED Inside Sports with Reid Wilkins.

“It was like, ‘What?!’ That was the only time I was aware that we were having a day like that. I just kept feeding those guys the football and letting them do their thing. We were just enjoying the moment of being back out on top and putting it to Edmonton, based on what happened the previous Grey Cup.”

Dunigan had used slot receivers Gerald Wilcox and Gerald Alphin to carve Edmonton’s secondary — catching 32 balls combined for 485 yards — in two blowout victories during the 1993 regular season. Unfortunately, the passer tore his Achilles tendon later in the year and was forced to watch the 81st Grey Cup from the sidelines, Edmonton won 33-23 in an upset.

“The Eskimos came to town and they weren’t going to get beat by our inside receivers. So we got one-on-one coverage on the outside to a couple other outstanding receivers, a Hall of Famer in David Williams and Alfred Jackson — who is just a special athlete — and those guys lit them up,” Dunigan said.

Dunigan finished the game with 33 completions on 52 attempts for 713 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. He connected with Alfred Jackson seven times for 308 yards and four touchdowns and David Williams had 10 receptions for 240 yards with one major. No quarterback has come close to the total Dunigan set at Winnipeg Stadium — later dubbed Canad Inns Stadium in 2001 — but the Hall of Fame QB feels it is threatened each time a game kicks off.

“Absolutely [the record can be broken]. With the way they chuck the ball around now, just pitch and catch. I think that is definitely doable based on what I see and the talent level that we have,” Dunigan said.

“There’s combinations of coaches that understand the game at such a high level and have such a great rapport with their quarterbacks. That’s in jeopardy every time somebody takes the football field because of the talent that we have in the Canadian Football League.”

Over 25 years later, Dunigan’s remarkable record still stands and seems untouchable.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.