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Keeper of the Grey Cup cares for trophy won by his dad — Glenn (Keeper) McWhinney

Jeff McWhinney has a connection to the Grey Cup that goes deeper than love for the game. He's keeper of the Grey Cup, in charge of caring for the CFL's silver trophy — a fitting job for the son of 1954 Grey Cup player Glenn (Keeper) McWhinney.

'I hope that I show the Cup as much respect now as I did when I was 8 years old'

Jeff McWhinney is Keeper of the Grey Cup and in charge of keeping tabs on the CFL’s cherished silver trophy. (Sabrina Carnevale/CBC)

Jeff McWhinney has a rooted connection to the Grey Cup that goes deeper than a love for the game. 

McWhinney is keeper of the Grey Cup, which means he's in charge of keeping tabs on the CFL's cherished silver trophy.

But Jeff McWhinney isn't the first Grey Cup keeper.

His dad, Glenn McWhinney, was nicknamed the Keeper in his rookie year with the Edmonton Eskimos because of his skills on the field.

In a game against Saskatchewan in 1952, Winnipeg-born McWhinney saw the line break open, so he ran for the touchdown.

Glenn McWhinney during his time with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. (Sabrina Carnevale/CBC)
"Dad said it was like the Red Sea parting," McWhinney says. "It was the first play of the game and they called it the keeper play. Dad stayed with that name until the day he died."

Now, as keeper of the Grey Cup, McWhinney says holding that title is an honour as he is able to connect with his father again.

"Bringing the keeper back to the CFL, it's not only a designation; now I can speak to people who have asked about my dad and still have him around us," McWhinney says. "It was tough to let him go."

Jeff McWhinney wearing his father's Grey Cup ring from his dad's win with the Edmonton Eskimos in 1954. (Sabrina Carnevale/CBC)
Glenn McWhinney helped the Edmonton Eskimos win the Grey Cup in 1954, playing with CFL legends Jackie Parker and Norm Kwong.

"As long as I'm respecting my father, I can teach others what it's like to honour a great man," McWhinney says. "So some of our young children, like my nephew, will see how I respect his grandfather."

Glenn McWhinney's career was cut short when he broke his neck on the field in 1956, just a year after he was named the CFL's most valuable Canadian player as a Winnipeg Blue Bomber.  

"Former Winnipeg Blue Bombers coach Bud Grant would say, 'Your dad was a man who made good players great and great players all-stars,'" McWhinney says.

The Winnipeg Rugby Football Club 1955 (Glenn McWhinney is No. 81). (Jeff McWhinney/Submitted)
Winnipeg has the same fondness for the acclaimed athlete  — a park at 401 Linden Avenue was renamed Glenn McWhinney Park in June 2014 in honour of McWhinney's legacy as an athlete and years working in the community. McWhinney was also inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.

Being a part of the McWhinney football legacy led Jeff to work in a field he's passionate about. McWhinney started with the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2009 has been the Cup keeper since April 2014.

Considering the Grey Cup turns 109 this year, it carries a lot of history, and Jeff McWhinney lives and breathes CFL folklore.

"A lot of these fellas [engraved on the Grey Cup] are war heroes," McWhinney says. "They battled on the gridiron and they battled on the battlefields." 

The Grey Cup. (Sabrina Carnevale/CBC)
Of the 3,693 men whose names are on the Grey Cup, 65 per cent have died. McWhinney says he has a responsibility to properly represent the men whose names are engraved on the trophy. 

"There are so many great community-minded guys on the Cup, and some who are no longer with us," he says. "They set the tone for guys like Chris Walby, who is one of our hometown greats."

Leading up to the Grey Cup championship, McWhinney's days are long and busy, from 6 a.m. until late in the evening. He typically makes 13 to 17 stops with the Cup each day, including visits with partners and alumni.

The energy and fans keep McWhinney going.

"When people first see the Cup, there are a lot of tears and joy," McWhinney says.

"One of the most fun things is how all of the teams come together and party under one roof."

McWhinney wants to ensure every Canadian has some sort of attachment to the silver trophy, so he encourages people to engage with it.

Jeff McWhinney with the CUp at Centre Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. (Jeff McWhinney/Submitted)
"If they want to hug or kiss it, we allow it," he says with a laugh. "But we do clean and polish it up after." 

Fans are allowed to take their picture with the Cup, but they must abide by two rules: no hoisting the Cup above your head and no touching the chalice.

On Grey Cup Sunday, the winning team is given the silver trophy for 60 days.

"We surrender the Cup at the end of the Grey Cup game. It's like sending a kid off to school. I'm looking at it and thinking, 'Don't leave,'" McWhinney says. "It can be very emotional."

Once the Cup is returned, McWhinney is back on the road with it right away, with as many as 150 visits across the country each year.

Football memories run deep for McWhinney, going back to playing in Fraser Grove Park as a kid. 

"I would pretend to be Glenn McWhinney and someone else would be Jackie Parker," Jeff says. "I hope that I show the Cup as much respect now as I did when I was eight years old."
Glenn McWhinney holds the Grey Cup. (Jeff McWhinney/Submitted)

About the Author

Sabrina Carnevale

Community/Traffic Reporter

Sabrina Carnevale has been a familiar voice on local radio over the last decade and joined the CBC Manitoba team as the the community/traffic reporter in 2016. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Sabrina is an avid supporter of the local arts, culinary and music scenes.