This time it's personal

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:34 AM ET

Being that it's tough to round up a couple dozen 1954 convertibles these days, they settled for the Eskimos fire truck from that era to lead the parade.

A crowd of 37,708 gave the old geezers a standing ovation as they took one last victory lap on the old fire truck and in the back of five pickup trucks which followed.

It was halftime of the Thanksgiving game, but it was the final run of the fabulous 50th anniversary reunion for the '54 Eskimos, Edmonton's first Grey Cup-winning team.

The '54-to-'56 gang has had reunions before. They came together for a 25th anniversary in the '70s, reunited again as part of the celebrations for Edmonton's first Grey Cup-hosting back in 1984, put a cruise together 10 years later and were inspired to have this week together as part of Edmonton's 100th birthday party by Shirley and Bob Dean.

"This one was more personal," said Normie Kwong. "It's really something that they all came back. It's been great all weekend, but I think we all came here knowing it was going to be sad when it's all over. This might be the last one we ever have. This will be the last time a lot of us are ever going to see each other."

With a stage appearance at the 100th anniversary celebrations on Friday, a well-organized and successful luncheon open to their old fans on Saturday, the best part might have been Sunday night when they gave themselves a sit-around-the-room storytelling session where all the players stood up and told a tale or two.

"Look around," whispered Jackie Parker as he listened to each player take their turn. "We're a group."

I don't think it occurred to any of them, but for the better part of three hours a team which won three consecutive Grey Cup games didn't talk about their greatness or even any great plays or great moments on the field. They talked about the times they had together being the glory of their time.

Ray Willsey, who went on to win Super Bowls as an assistant coach with the Oakland Raiders, stood up and pointed out that he's vertically challenged, but told of the time he put a bunch of peanuts on the top of Kwong's head and bent over and ate them after Kwong had called him "that little midget."

Earl Lindley talked about how the team made the first road trip by plane in 1952 and how he hated airline travel, not because of a fear of flying but a fear of team-mates.

"For two years I didn't go to sleep on an airplane without waking up with a cigarette in my mouth," he said.

Rollie Cook, who went on to become an Air Canada airline pilot, told of visiting his mom one day and her finding his first contract, which was for about $600.

"It happened the Oilers were on the plane that day. Wayne Gretzky had a fear of flying and liked to come up to the cockpit. I showed him that contract. He said ,"Do you mind if I take it back and show it to all the guys back there?"

Don Barry talked about coach Pop Ivy sending the team home from practice one day when he figured out they'd been up all night with a 24-hour card game.

He also told of the time, on a trip to Calgary, when they ran out of beer, and Parker and Ted Tully were inspired to make a run for the hotel in either Innisfail or Red Deer. With two cases of beer under each arm, they raced back to the train but couldn't quite catch it as it left the station.

"Jackie and Ted hitchhiked and arrived before the train."

Parker said they thought they got away with it until one year, long after his career, when he was scouting for the Eskimos, he ran into Ivy, then an NFL head coach, who finally told him.

"He said, 'Do you think I didn't know where you and Ted went?' " laughed Parker.

Lindley told of Bill Zock keeping him up all night by waking up every half-hour the night before a game and shouting "You gotta hate 'em."

He also told the story about practising in Victoria prior to the 1955 Grey Cup game in Vancouver, a bunch of muddy football players stomping through the lobby of the Empress Hotel while little old ladies were enjoying high tea. As the story went, the team then came down and joined the la-de-dah crowd for dinner. As the waiter came around with the soup, Zock inquired what kind of soup was being served. "Split pea," he was informed. "Oh, I can't have split pea," he said loud enough for all to hear. "It makes me fart."

Another told of going to practice on a day when winter came early and going to the trainer and asking for "a toboggan." Kwong had told him that was the name for what he really wanted, which was a tuque.

Dean talked about showing up here from the Washington Redskins (because back then the Eskimos were paying more for imports than the NFL).

"I was in the shower and I was really impressed when veteran Frank Morris came in and stood beside me and was talking football with me, a rookie. It took me a couple of minutes before I realized he was urinating on my leg."

Bob Haydenfelt stood up and told of how he came to the Eskimos because of religious beliefs.

"I was only here one year. I came to Edmonton instead of the NFL because my mom didn't think it was right to play on Sunday. Back then the CFL played Saturday and Monday.

"Whoever finally found me, I'd like to say thank you," he said of this being the first reunion he'd attended.

John Tatum was another one-year Eskimo, getting a spot in the roster when Kurt Burris was injured.

"It was the most fun I ever had," he said. "I can't remember one moment of any animosity. Other than the money I lost in card games, it was the greatest year of my life."

He told a story about Parker drawing the eight of spades to win the last hand before practice, picking up the card and throwing it at the wall where it lodged in a crack and remained for the rest of the season as a reminder not to play poker with Parker.

He said he hadn't been back to Edmonton since and couldn't believe the place, much less Commonwealth Stadium.

"I drove around and found the place where Normie and I roomed. I thought we lived in a highrise. Edmonton has became a beautiful city. And what a stadium."

On and on it went until Dave West got up and started telling a story which he forgot in mid-delivery.

"I hate getting old," he said.

Emotionally, he looked around the room at all his old teammates and said what a lot of them were thinking.

"We're all going to meet again somewhere else," he said of the big dressing room in the sky.


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