Back in April, we lost one of the greatest athletes ever produced in Manitoba.
An honored member of both the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame and the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame, Glenn (Keeper) McWhinney, the one-time member of the Edmonton Eskimos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers, passed away after a long, courageous battle against cancer.
He is survived by his wife Lily, five children, including my close friend, Jeff McWhinney, and two grand children. Keeper played on the 1954 Grey Cup champion Eskimos and was also an outstanding basketball player. A scholarship at Miles Mac Collegiate to be maintained by the Winnipeg Foundation, has been named in his honor.
It was one of the greatest football men on either side of the border, a legendary fellow named Frank Filchock, who gave Glenn McWhinney the nickname “The Keeper.”
“I was a quarterback with the Eskimos in Edmonton in 1952,” McWhinney recalled shortly before he passed away. “Frank Filchock was coaching in Edmonton at the time and he gave me a few chances as a backup.
“Well, we were down about the three-yard-line against Saskatchewan and we ran a couple of plays and we didn’t get into the end zone, so I’d seen something and thought I’m going to call this play. So I made the call and when I got the snap, I expected everybody to go right, but they all went left. There I was, all alone. So I just tucked the ball under my arm and took it in for a touchdown.
“When I came off the field, Frank started calling me ‘The Keeper’ and it just stuck. It’s just one of those things.”
While McWhinney’s nickname was “just one of those things,” his incredible career as an athlete was not. In the late 40s, all through the 50s and into the 60s, McWhinney was one of the most celebrated athletes in Winnipeg history.
And that’s why joined hockey star Ed Belfour, curler Kerry Burtnyk, football hero Bob Cameron, sailor Kelly Hand, lawn bowler Clarice (Lawton) Fitzpatrick, builder Joe Wiwchar, the 1967 Winnipeg Mixed Bowling Team and the 1975-76 University of Manitoba Bisons Basketball Team as the 2011 inductees into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame.
McWhinney was an exceptional and gifted athlete who had a huge heart, cat-like quickness, passion, desire and intelligence, traits that just seemed to make him play bigger than he actually was.
“He was an all-round contributor, whether at quarterback, wingback or wide receiver,” said CFL Hall of Famer Normie Kwong, a former teammate of McWhinney’s with the Edmonton Eskimos. “Glenn made up for his size with great tenacity and 100 per cent effort all the time. He was a role model who was well-respected by his teammates.”
The next season he suffered a broken neck that ended his football playing career, but he worked as a scout for the team for the next two years, including before and during the 1958 Grey Cup.
As a guard in basketball he ruled the Winnipeg Men’s Senior League for more than a decade, winning two championships with King’s Best (1956 and 1960) and one with The Blues (1963). The Blues was a team made up primarily of members of the Blue Bombers and during that 1962-63 championship season, McWhinney was the team’s player-coach, even though Bombers head coach Bud Grant, a former NBA player, was on the squad.
“Yeah, that was great,” McWhinney recalled.“I’m supposed to be coaching a guy who won the NBA championship with the Minneapolis Lakers in 1947. Let’s just say Bud and I co-coached.”
McWhinney was also an outstanding baseball player with the old River Heights Cardinals, the Smitty’s Cubs and the Army-Navy Veterans.
“Glenn was an outstanding, intelligent football and basketball player with great leadership ability in both sports,” said former Bombers and Minnesota Vikings assistant coach John Michels. “I could talk to him at a level few athletes could understand. I feel he was overlooked and never received the notoriety he earned. He was a special player and a special gentleman.”
Glenn McWhinney, “The Keeper,” was a champion all his life.