As time passes, it gets increasingly difficult to gauge the impact of players from the Edmonton Eskimos’ first Grey Cup-winning teams.
With a couple of generations of fans that haven’t seen those three-in-a-row Eskimos teams of the 1950s play, many of us are left to rely on name and legend when they come up.
If you’re an Esks’ fan, you know that Norman Kwong and Don Getty played on those teams. You know they’re on the team’s wall of honour and you know that both went on to have successful political careers. Getty served as Alberta’s premier from 1985-1992. Kwong was made a member of the order of Canada in 1988, served as the national chairman of the Canadian Consultative Council on Multiculturalism and was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Alberta.
Getty died on Feb. 26, 2016, at the age of 82 while Kwong died on Sept. 3, 2016. He was 86.
Both are being honoured by the Eskimos with commemorative Canada Day t-shirts in Week 2, leading into their Friday, June 30 date with the visiting Montreal Alouettes. Today, it takes a special type of deeply-rooted and committed fan to get deep into a contribution that was made 60-plus years ago.
“It was about a month ago that we watched Game 3 of the 1956 West Final. We watched Getty have one of the greatest playoff games ever; he threw to (Jackie) Parker for three touchdowns,” says Brian Desjarlais, the Eskimos’ statistician of 25 years.
“Did he throw four that game?” asks Mike Smith-Knutsen, a lifelong Esks fan that co-hosts the Eskimo Empire podcast and runs the Esks’ history Twitter account.
“He threw four in that game,” Desjarlais says. “Johnny Bright, Kwong, and all of those guys, it just looked way too easy for them.”
“At one point it was allowed that if you were down and you had guys on your back, you could crawl. You could keep going until you were judged down, but eventually they invented that in-the-grasp rule, which was the Normie Kwong rule.”
Smith-Knutsen on Normie Kwong
Born in the Montreal suburb of Westmount, Que., Getty played with the Eskimos from 1955-1965, collecting Grey Cup rings with the team in his first two years. He made 543-of-992 passes for 8,952 yards and 58 touchdowns, while rushing 149 times for 318 yards and a touchdown.
“The first time I saw him was the video of the 1956 Grey Cup,” Smith-Knutsen says of Getty.
“They beat the Alouettes 50-27. It should have been 51 but they ran out of footballs (fans stormed the field on the final play and one stole the game ball) and they couldn’t kick the convert,” he chuckles. “It’s just that he had a real poise in the pocket. He was able to throw a really long ball, which was more unusual for that time. You had guys like Parker who could throw the ball, but he didn’t have near the strength on it. Getty was more of a pure passer than Parker ever would have been.”
Kwong, Smith-Knutsen notes, was such an impossible-to-stop running back that he forced the league to change its rules.
“At one point it was allowed that if you were down and you had guys on your back, you could crawl. You could keep going until you were judged down, but eventually they invented that in-the-grasp rule, which was the Normie Kwong rule,” he says.
Kwong played in 183 games and amassed 9,022 yards, scoring 83 touchdowns. He spent his first two years in Calgary, before being traded to Edmonton for the 1951 season. Rushing stats weren’t kept in the West Division before 1950.
Desjarlais and Smith-Knutsen agree that Kwong and Getty were part of a peak moment for Canadian talent in the CFL and with the Eskimos in particular.
“Between Kwong and Getty they were the first four nominees as Canadian of the Year for the Eskimos,” Desjarlais says. “Kwong won it in ’55 as an at-large selection and he won it in ’56 too.”
“Most people don’t know that Getty was our winner for the Western league for Most Outstanding Canadian in ’59,” Smith-Knutsen adds. “He lost to Russ Jackson in the final. No harm there.”
Thinking of Canada’s 150th birthday, they both had recently started debating an all-time Canadian team for the Eskimos.
“Getty would be our quarterback and Kwong would be one of our running backs. There’s no doubt about that,” Desjarlais says. “I’m pretty sure we could put those up against pretty much any team in the league. We have that quarterback position solidified and our running backs are definitely outstanding.”
Photo courtesy of – CP PHOTO/Jason Scott