Big Cat recalled as 'terrific teammate'

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:58 AM ET

He was one of the more popular members of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a gentle giant of a man who got along with everybody in the locker-room. But he died very much alone, estranged from his family and far from the bright lights and glory of the football field.

Former offensive lineman Bobby Thompson passed away in the lobby of his Winnipeg apartment building Thursday night.

A Bomber news release says Thompson died of a heart attack, but a friend says it was a massive stroke that took the 46-year-old.

Kim Beaque, friends with Thompson for the better part of 10 years, says Thompson collapsed in the lobby of his St. James apartment around 9 p.m. Thursday.

"The doctor said he couldn't have suffered a lot," Beaque told The Sun yesterday. "A good friend of his was with him in the apartment lobby. He died not alone, but alone."

It was hard to miss Thompson when he suited up for the Blue Bombers from 1979 to 1983.

At 6-foot-8, 300-plus pounds, the product of Kansas State College was one of the biggest men who'd ever played for the team. And one of its best linemen, too.

"He was a great athlete," then-head coach Cal Murphy said.

Good enough to be named a CFL all-star in '82.

"He was a terrific teammate," former kicker Trevor Kennerd said. "And he was one of the nicer guys in the locker-room. A happy fellow. Extremely kind and gentle off the field, and a heck of a football player."

But after his playing days were over, Thompson virtually disappeared.

Kennerd, active with the club's alumni, says he hadn't seen Thompson since the mid-1980s.

Beaque, who used to room with Thompson, paints the picture of a man who'd lost all contact with his family, including his ex-wife and daughter, who live in Toronto.

"Bobby's been alone for a long, long time," Beaque said. "His parents passed away when he was younger. He has an estranged sister of 12 years ... he hasn't had contact with his daughter or wife for nine years."

Beaque says Thompson returned to Winnipeg when his marriage fell apart, working off-and-on as a security guard or bouncer at various hotels. Often, he'd live at the hotel.

Recently, he took a job at Assiniboia Downs and moved into a bachelor suite in St. James.

"He was quite happy -- his life was back on track," Beaque said.

Known as Big Cat, Thompson battled a weight problem when he played, and his condition had deteriorated badly since his retirement.

Beaque estimated his weight was pushing 500 pounds at the time of his death.

"Bobby has told me on different occasions this might be his last day," she said. "He knew he wasn't well."

Beaque says Thompson also suffered from a social phobia -- he couldn't go out to buy his own groceries, for instance -- and a sleep disorder, which saw him routinely go 24 hours with virtually no rest.

"He couldn't sleep, because he was such a big fellow, other than sitting up," Beaque said. "His heart was working on overdrive.

"But he was the best friend you could ever ask for. And he loved his daughter. He knew the day he died his daughter would get something for her education."


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