Hall of Famer Tommy Joe Coffey’s motto: ‘If I can touch it, I can catch it’

The self-effacing superstar was a key member of two Grey Cup championships with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Tommy Joe Coffey has passed away at the age of 83.

He was living in Burlington with wife Joan and took his last breaths Tuesday night at St. Peter’s Hospital in the Hammer after spending the last couple months in a hospice. Coffey was diagnosed with lung cancer in June and told family members in recent weeks and days: “I’m going home.”

“When you look back, he had a really good life, the average pro football player doesn’t make it past 60 years old. He was still golfing when he was 79 years old,” grandson Adam Coffey said.

There won’t be a local funeral service. Instead, Coffey will be cremated with his ashes buried next to his parents in Sayre, Oklahoma at a future date when it’s safe to cross the border. Fellow franchise legend Garney Henley learned of his former teammates passing Wednesday at his home in South Dakota.

“He was an excellent football player and a great friend. I knew his family reasonably well and his kids, he was always proud of his kids I know that,” Henley said.

“Tommy Joe liked to talk a lot on the field, I wasn’t a talker, but when you competed against him he made you talk.”

Coming out of West Texas State, Coffey was selected by the Baltimore Colts in the eighth round, 96th overall during the 1959 NFL draft. However, the CFL offered more money and the six-foot, 190-pound Coffey decided to play professionally in Canada.

Coffey’s motto: “If I can touch it, I can catch it.” He was a league all-star seven times in his 14-year career as a pass catcher and kicker. Following six stellar seasons in black and gold, the Ticats enshrined him on their Wall of Honour in 1999. That’s when grandson Adam realized how respected his grandfather was in the city.

“There was this crazy five-minute standing ovation that gives me chills thinking about it now, it made the hair stand up on my arms,” Coffey said. “That’s the first time I experienced how big his name was to Hamilton fans.”

Following his distinguished career, the Texas native was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1977. Coffey was the first CFL receiver to reach the 10,000-yard mark in league history.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.