Tommy Joe Coffey’s helmet finds its way home

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As soon as the bunch entered his pool hall, Alex Magis recognized the stuff.

“They had a pair of spikes, Tony Gabriel’s No. 77 sweater and Tommy Joe Coffey’s helmet,” the Hamilton businessman recalls of that 1968 day when a handful of men came into his pool hall, the Cellar Dwellars, at Barton and Sherman.

The group wanted to exchange their goods — pieces of Tiger-Cats equipment and uniforms — for table time and Margis accepted. He said he’d give them two or three hours of play for the three pieces of memorabilia.

“They said, ‘throw in some pop and chips’ and so I did and I took the stuff,” Magis was saying this week as he prepares to return Coffey’s No. 75 helmet to the Canadian Football League Hall of Famer at a luncheon at Tim Hortons Field, Friday.

“The only reason I grabbed it at the time, was sentimental and I knew if I didn’t, it’d be gone. I knew that they’d probably just throw the stuff in the garbage, and I wanted to save it. I did it for the respect of the team and the game.

“They said they more or less just came upon the stuff.”

Magis didn’t keep the spikes and eventually gave Gabriel’s sweater to a friend, but hung onto the helmet. He says he phoned Coffey to say he had it and the Ticat receiver and punter said he appreciated the call, would like the helmet back, and asked Magis where he lived.

But that got the then-27-year-old Magis concerned people would assume the goods had been stolen and he was involved.

“I was worried that I’d be accused of having something to do with it, so I didn’t call him back,” he said. “And I just hung onto the helmet.”

Coffey heard from Magis for the second time in 47 years about a month ago, saying he’d like to finally return the helmet.

“It had been so long, and I hadn’t thought anything of it for years,” says the 79-year-old Coffey, who lives in Burlington. “But when I got the call it all came flooding back: it was , ‘Oops, wait a minute, I remember now.’ Somebody took it to a pool hall and used it as money…and I don’t even play pool.”

Coffey, who had been traded to the Ticats from Edmonton in 1967 and played his final Cat season when they won the 1972 Grey Cup at Ivor Wynne Stadium, said the Ticats had held a locker clear-out because they were buying new gear, and in the ensuing equipment giveaway he was going to take his old helmet.

“I have no idea how it disappeared,” he told The Spectator this week. “That helmet represented something I had success at for a number of years. I’m looking forward to getting it back.”

Magis says that over the years he’s telephoned The Spectator and the Canadian Football Hall of Fame about the helmet, but received no interest. The helmet’s been hanging on a hook in his workshop on the mountain.

“How many people would still have it after 50 years?” he asks rhetorically, before explaining, “It was sentimental to me.”

Coffey, who stands third on the Tiger-Cats’ all-time career scoring list behind pure kickers Paul Osbaldiston and Bernie Ruoff made a huge impact upon his arrival in Hamilton. He was one of quarterback Joe Zuger’s favourite targets in the Ticats’ 1967 dominant championship season, catching 42 passes as a receiver and also kicked 16 field goals.

“I took pride in being among the most honoured,” Coffey says of his career, “..and among the most hated.”

Coffey has a number of game-action pictures but never had much equipment memorabilia from his playing days. So he’s happy to be getting the helmet back.

“It means something,” he says.”It’s a piece of equipment I cherish and it did a lot of good for me. And it’s a super talking point.

“I look at my wall right now and see a picture of me turning away from a player after I’ve made a catch and it makes me reminisce. If I didn’t see that picture, I couldn’t think of the incident, but because I can see it, it’s like it happened yesterday.

“The helmet will be the same way.”

However, he wouldn’t be averse to letting it go to the right person, in the right situation.

“Probably, to be truthful, I would sell it if the opportunity came up,” he says. “

“With that helmet, the sentimental value would be there even if I did sell it because I know if I sold it, the person who bought it would be really happy to have it and would feel sentimental about it too.

“If I had that helmet and I sold it for value I’d be thrilled to death for the guy who owns it and I’d keep his name and know where it is all the time.

“I’d be happy for two people: him and me.”