Eagle Keys could have been a CFL legend merely coming from his hometown, Turkey Neck Bend, Kentucky. As a player, he was a legend, playing on two Grey Cup teams, including the 1954 Edmonton Eskimos, where he played centre and snapped the ball for the point-after conversion which won the game (he played, some stories indicate, with one of his legs broken). Keys was a Saskatchewan legend for being the head coach of the first Saskatchewan Roughrider team to win the Grey Cup, in 1966, and getting the Riders into the Grey Cup game three times in his six-year coaching career in Regina.
But if there’s one thing for which Keys should be remembered, it’s laying the foundations for the Roughriders of today — in Canadian culture as much as in football. When Keys became the Roughriders’ head coach in 1965, he took over a locker room where the players were pretty much shell-shocked and dispirited after a couple of years of the previous head coach, Bob Shaw, a man who knew his football but didn’t know how to handle people. The last couple of paragraphs in Keys’ Vancouver Sun obit say it all …
Moreover, Keys played an integral role in the careers of two CFL legends — quarterback Ron Lancaster and fullback George Reed. Neither player was prepared to rejoin the Roughriders for the 1965 season until head coach Bob Shaw left Regina to join the Toronto Argonauts and was succeeded by Keys.
“The only reason we came back was simply that Eagle Keys was hired,’’ Reed said in 2006. “And the rest is history.’’
Now, imagine what the Saskatchewan Roughriders would have been in the 1960s without Reed and Lancaster. Imagine what they would be like today, without that foundation that Reed, Lancaster, and Eagle Keys helped to build.
Rest easy, Mr. Keys. Let the earth lay lightly on your bones … and may that earth never be artificial turf. You were the real thing.