12/20/2014 11:11 EST | Updated 02/19/2015 05:59 EST

Former CFL Player Dick Thornton Dies At 75

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The CFL has lost one of its most colourful characters.

Dick Thornton, who starred with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Toronto Argonauts, died Friday night after battling lung cancer. He was 75.

The Chicago native, whose nickname was Tricky, won two Grey Cups with Winnipeg before being traded to Toronto in '67. He helped the Argos reach the '71 Grey Cup game.

The versatile Thornton played defensive back, wide receiver, quarterback and running back. He helped Winnipeg win Grey Cup titles in 1961 and 1962 and reach the '65 final.

Toronto was the favourite in the '71 game against Calgary but wet conditions at Empire Stadium turned the contest into a tight, defensive battle.

With Toronto trailing 14-11 late in the contest, Thornton intercepted Calgary quarterback Jerry Keeling and returned it 54 yards to the Calgary 11-yard line.

But on the next play, Argos running back Leon McQuay slipped while trying to make a cut on the wet field and fumbled. Calgary recovered to claim its first Grey Cup title since '48.

In 2012, Thornton was among 14 members of the '71 team honoured by the Argos at Rogers Centre. He told reporters then that he often thought about that interception.

“I've never forgotten that moment," Thornton said. "I should've scored, maybe in a way I let everybody down.

"I should have cut right, I cut left. But then again, I was playing against Jerry Keeling, who was a great defensive back who happened to be playing quarterback at that time. He played me perfect."

Off the field, Thornton was often outspoken and definitely a free spirit. But in a story on the CFL website, Thornton said there was a method to his sometimes offbeat ways.

"I was often misunderstood, but did nothing more than market and merchandise myself," he said. "I ranted and raved about not playing quarterback, had my own fan club, gave all my girlfriends gold No. 14 pendants, even changed my jersey number from 14 to 28 for a couple of games...called a press conference to explain why...and the answer was I had to play twice as good during that stretch.

"But it was all smoke and mirrors."

Thornton returned eight interceptions for touchdowns over 12 CFL seasons, including three in '63.

He was inducted into the Bombers Hall of Fame in 1988 and played in three CFL all-star games from 1963-1971.

Thornton was an All-American standout as a quarterback, free safety and special-teams performer at Northwestern University in Illinois.

He was drafted in the sixth round of the '61 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns — who immediately traded his rights to the St. Louis Cardinals. He was also selected by the American Football League's Dallas Texans, and was named to the Blue Bombers' negotiation list before settling on Winnipeg.

Thornton finished his career in '74 with the Memphis Southmen of the defunct World Football League. He was later named head coach and athletic director at Southwestern University in Memphis, leading the team to a 9-1-1 record in '77 before moving into the food and beverage industry in 1978.

Thornton is survived by his wife Lhyn, daughters Lisa and Ashley, son Ricky, and grandsons Trey and Josh.


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