Former Western Kentucky University football and baseball star Eagle “Buddy” Keys passed away Thursday, Dec. 20, in Vancouver, British Columbia. He was 89 years old.
Keys was a legendary professional football figure in his adopted Canada, where he starred as a Canadian Football League (CFL) center and linebacker in the early 1950s before becoming one of the great head coaches in that league.
He came to WKU from Monroe County, Ky., in the early 1940s and lettered in football in 1942 before joining the Marine Corps during World War II. Keys returned to The Hill after the War in 1946 and starred in both football (1947-48) and baseball (1946-48). He was an All-Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (KIAC) pick on the gridiron as a senior. And, he and teammate Chet Redmon gave Hilltopper baseball one of its greatest 1-2 punches on the mound in their two years together. Their ‘46 club was a perfect 9-0, outscoring the opposition by an averaged five runs per game.
Following his college career, Keys moved north to play professional football in the CFL. He was an All-Eastern Conference selection for three straight years (1949-51) with the Montreal Alouettes and then earned a berth on the All-Western Conference Team the next three seasons while playing for the Edmonton Eskimos. Keys is most remembered for his final game as a player — the 1954 Grey Cup (the CFL equivalent of the NFL’s Super Bowl). He helped his Edmonton club upset heavily favored Montreal 26-25 in the 42nd Grey Cup playing virtually the entire game with a broken bone in his knee, a legendary moment in the history of pro football in Canada.
He was also a member of the 1949 Montreal club that won the Grey Cup 28-15 over Calgary. And, he played in the ‘52 Cup game with Edmonton and lost out to Toronto
After his six years as a player, he put in six more years as an assistant coach in the CFL before being named head coach of the Eskimos in 1959. Keys spent 16 seasons as a head coach in the CFL, the first five with Edmonton, then six with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and, finally, five with the British Columbia Lions. His 1966 Roughriders won the CFL’s Grey Cup. He retired from coaching after the 1975 season and was inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame in 1990. His 144 wins as a CFL coach still ranks as one of the highest victory totals for a coach in that league. And, Keys was voted as the All-Time All-Star Coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Keys was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1990. And, he was inducted into the WKU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1994.