There’s an old story about Jim Trimble, the late coach
of the Hamilton Ticats, gazing upon Garney Henley for
the first time after he arrived for a workout in
September, 1960 and mistaking the slender young man
for the water boy.
It’s not true, though thousands of Henley hero
worshippers believed it for years.
But Henley, in an interview with CFL.ca, says it is
true that Trimble, the gruff task master of the Cats,
told assistant coach Ralph Sazio to let Henley work
out and then send him home – back to South Dakota.
But something happened as Henley worked out as a
defensive half back – nobody caught any passes, not
even Paul Dekker, the Cats’ fabulous tight end. Sazio
told Trimble that they better keep the kid.
Henley did stay – 16 years. Won four Grey Cups. Nine
consecutive seasons as a Canadian all-star defensive
back. The most outstanding player in the league in
Back in 1960, Henley actually started his career with
the Cats mid way through the season. He said he was
traded by the Green Bay Packers to Hamilton. The
Packers had drafted him ninth out of Huron
University. He was also a draft pick of the New York
Titans of the old American Football League.
Even if he wasn’t mistaken for the water boy, he did
look like one, or perhaps a librarian, wearing glasses
off the field. He said back then he weighed 175-180
pounds, slightly under six feet tall. Henley, now
73, may have been slight but he was still one of the
best open-field tacklers in CFL history.
And he did it normally without using his hands. After
catching a pass, opposition players simply had their
feet taken out from under them when Henley cut them
down by flinging his body just at their shoe tops. “I
learned early that it was the best way to stop guys,”
And despite his small frame, Henley did something
virtually unheard of in professional football today.
He played both offence and defence for Hamilton.
He was primarily a defensive halfback, but Cats’ fans
always took notice when he was sent out to play wide
receiver (called flanker 40 years ago). Henley on
the field usually meant the Ticats needed a big first
down or were behind in the game, and putting him in
meant a comeback.
In 1962, he even rushed the ball 50 times for 258
yards. And, he returned punts, 370 of them for 2,940
yards. This in an era when no blocking was allowed
on punt returns.
Henley never played high school football, just
basketball, but when he got to college in South Dakota
he was so fast and athletic that he made the
transition easily, becoming a junior All-American (as
well as being on the Dean’s List as an academic
His athleticism helped lead the Ticats to seven Grey
When asked about a favourite memory in his 16-year
career, Henley said it was the 1962 “Fog Bowl” that
had to be played over two days in Toronto when fog
rolled in at Exhibition Stadium.
“I never got off the field,” Henley said. He caught
two touchdown passes and had an interception. But
the Cats lost 28-27 to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Henley was quoted after game as saying, “you could see
the players, but only the bottom half.”
In his first season as a Cat in 1960, Henley was paid
$6,500. Doesn’t sound like much, but he pointed out
that Tom Moore, who was the number one draft pick in
the NFL that year, got $10,000 from the Baltimore
Colts. And the Canadian dollar was worth more than the
American buck back then.
A year later Henley got a raise to $12,500, plus
In the 1960s, most players had second jobs. Henley
said for the first three years he had “army
obligations” back in South Dakota, meaning he had to
report there every six months. But after that he lived
full-time in Canada, and raised four kids (three born
in this country). He is now a grandfather of nine.
Even in 1975, his final years, he played both ways,
catching 31 passes and intercepting four more.
After his playing days ended, he became a coach and
administrator at Mount Allison University in New
Brunswick, Brock University and the University of
Guelph. In 1995-96 he was director of football
operations for the Ottawa Rough Riders.
In 1979 he was elected to the Canadian Football Hall
of Fame, and was elected to the College Football Hall
of Fame in 2004. He was named the sixth greatest CFL
player in a TSN poll in 2006.
Today, in his small town in South Dakota, he doesn’t
get to see any CFL games on television, but he does
make it back to Hamilton once and a while.
But Henley still has a Canadian connection. Three
years after he retired from football he took a job
with the Canadian Pacific Railway, driving conductors
so they can meet their trains.
“I sat around for three years, but I got bored,” he
Luckily, it was never boring for Ticat fans in the 16
years he played in Hamilton.