The Grey Cup may finally belong to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers after a 29-year drought, but the CFL’s championship trophy has had a local connection for years, in the person of the white-gloved man who keeps it safe.
Jeff McWhinney, the league’s official Keeper of the Cup, was born in Winnipeg, and his personal links to the trophy run much deeper than simply the job. His dad, Glenn McWhinney — a one-time Bomber — has his name engraved on the Cup as a member of the 1954 Edmonton Eskimos.
McWhinney told 680 CJOB although the CFL’s 2020 season is still in question due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cup still has the ability to bring Canadians together.
“Actually, it’s having a few touch-ups — kind of an outpatient surgery,” he said.
“We’ve had a couple scrapes and we’re fixing the box and getting it prepped… hoping we’re going to have a Grey Cup and a season this year.”
One of those scrapes, of course, came when the hard-partying Bombers accidentally broke the trophy in two after their historic win. The Cup also narrowly escaped a fire at a Kenora, Ont., hotel during the off-season.
Those kinds of incidents are old hat to McWhinney, who said the Cup has been through more than its share of close calls.
“Any of us that have had the position to have been able to be the trustee of the Cup know it’s no stranger to fire,” he said.
“In 1947 we had the same situation — it was the only trophy to survive in 1947 when the Toronto Argonauts’ trophy house went up in flames.
“We know we’ve survived wars, we’ve survived fires, we’ve been stolen and ransomed…You can take our trophy, but you can’t take our freedom.”
McWhinney said he knew the Cup was in good hands — despite the unfortunate break — with the Bombers, a team with 11 championships to its name over its storied history.
And while the trophy’s safety and security is important, McWhinney said what it symbolizes — the history of Canada’s game — is more crucial than any physical symbol.
“Sure, it’s an aesthetic thing, where you want to make sure that the trophy your father or your uncle or your grandfather drank out of is maintained and is revered… but the trophy’s just an indication of a great storybook of a great country.”
Despite his Winnipeg roots, McWhinney said his role as Keeper of the Cup means he’s a fan of the league as a whole, rather than supporting one specific squad over another.
While he says he’s proud of Winnipeg players like Andrew Harris for their hard work in ending the Bombers’ drought, the championship game itself was the winner in 2019.
“It’s one of those things… you’re a Canadian, and you feel so much to every team. You fell in love with the league.”
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