WINNIPEG - In 1997, Buddy Tinsley allowed himself — strongly urged by friends and family — to attend the Canadian Football Hall of Fame’s induction weekend in Hamilton.
Tinsley had long ago been inducted into the Canadian shrine after a long, often painful career as a star lineman with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the 1950s and 60s. Tinsley’s reluctance to participate in the annual homecoming of the CFL’s greats stemmed not from a place of negativity, but rather a personality that typically led him to avoid the spotlight, and politely dance around conversations directed towards him about his playing days. A weekend made exactly of those spotlights and conversations was simply not who he was.
Tinsley, undeniably one of the greatest Blue Bombers of all time, passed away Wednesday, one month after his 87th birthday.
There was not one ounce of pretense in Tinsley, who treated his occupation as seriously as a coal miner treats his, and with about as much nostalgia. He played on both sides of the football — slamming with all his force and might into grown men his size with the same primary focus as his. Every snap. Every game. For 11 years. Perhaps when you reflect and consider the intensity and toll of that act, committed thousands of times over a career, you’ll understand why, 30 years later, Tinsley wasn’t always prone to reflecting on it in celebratory ways.
On Wednesday when Angelo Mosca was releasing a book about his life, my mind flashed to Tinsley, who famously had many on-field clashes with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats great. Those two — in my mind at least — will forever be linked to each other, not just for their rivalry, but for a choice moment at that induction ceremony in ’97.
Tinsley had weeks before acquiesced to the urging that he attend one of these inductions and prior to the gala dinner was where Tinsley truly came in contact with his past — Mosca’s arrival, and the ensuing interaction, the most memorable moment.
The two hugged and joked like they were former roommates, swapping quick anecdotes about their playing days, as though the rivalry had morphed from on-the-field one-upsmanship to now being about who could be more deferential. Never mind that their career paths crossed for just a few seasons, Tinsley and Mosca recalled those moments like they took place over decades, and as if they had existed but a few moments prior.
It struck me then at that moment — 10 minutes out of 24 hours — was worth it for Bud. Whatever concerns he had that the trip down Memory Lane would be anything but a sweet one, seemed to be allayed as he began appreciating these rare moments with friends and former rivals, some of whom he had to know he would never see again after that night.
My grandfather, Jack, and Tinsley became friends in the 1950s when Tinsley was making his name as a perennial CFL all-star. They became best friends over the years that followed, same for our families, who remain close to this day. Through that friendship, Bombers were frequent visitors to my grandparents’ home in Selkirk, the Grey Cup making an appearance in their living room on occasion too when the Bombers were champions in 1958 and 1959.
To better indicate what a genuine man Buddy was, you need look no further than the simple fact he invited me to that induction. He introduced me, still a junior in university, to numerous CFL legends and did so as “our journalist friend.”
At the same time Angelo Mosca was releasing a book, ready to answer questions and reveal his life, the reluctant star, Buddy Tinsley, quietly closed his eyes on his. Away from any limelight, and without any book deal in the works.
His great story was always for others to tell.