Perhaps, now that he's about to be the new lieutenant-governor of the Province of Alberta, Normie Kwong is going to have to become a little more politically correct. For 50 years, Kwong has been going around the province recalling the days when he was in the same Edmonton Eskimo backfield as Johnny Bright and Rollie Miles and calling himself "the lemon filling in the chocolate cookie.''
That's when he wasn't calling himself 'The Living Legend.'
"No, no, he has to keep doing that. One of his attributes is his sense of humour. I don't think he should cut it out,'' says former provincial premier Don Getty, who came from the same playpen as Kwong - the glory gang that won three straight Grey Cups for the Eskimos in the '50s.
When news broke Friday that Kwong would be the replacement for Lois Hole in the position, Getty was the go-to guy for media response. Getty talked about Kwong being a smart guy, a great speaker, a good guy and a great Albertan. To my knowledge, this was the first time Getty has said anything nice about the old China Clipper.
"I never heard of the Asian flu 'till I met Normie,'' Getty once told an audience.
"Normie hated going to Regina. They always had a tough team. And, well, the city was not always as nice as it is now. Every time we went to Regina, Normie had the Asian flu.''
TOOK ANOTHER POKE
When he introduced Jackie Parker, Bright, Miles and Kwong to the Eskimos Wall of Honour, Getty took another poke at him.
"Rollie Miles, thought of it as a career,'' Getty began. "Johnny Bright thought of it as a war. Jackie Parker thought of it as something to get out of the way so he could get on with his evening. Normie Kwong thought of it as a wonderful way to promote his laundry business.''
Chuck Quilter was Kwong's first roomie.
"I didn't like his cooking,'' quipped Quilter. "But he sure did the laundry well.''
Kwong delighted in having fun with Johnny Bright.
"Johnny used to hit people so hard, he'd knock himself out,'' says Getty. "Normie delighted at coming over to Johnny, pinging his finger against the side of Bright's helmet and saying 'Goodnight, Johnny'.''
I don't know if lieutenant-governors are allowed to pull practical jokes, but Kwong was the king of them.
Training camp was his favourite time.
"He knew he wasn't going to be cut and he knew who was getting edgy,'' remembers Frank Morris. "He'd go to any length. He'd get road maps from every corner of North America and he'd draw the best routes to travel to get the rookie home. He was at his best when Pop Ivy was the coach.
''Pop didn't like to call guys in to tell them they were cut. He'd clean out their lockers. Normie loved that. He'd come to the locker- room and clean out somebody's locker.''
And gamble ...
"I roomed with Jackie Parker. I couldn't believe some of the games. The money just piled up. Jackie and Normie Kwong would play gin as long as they thought they could keep the bus waiting,'' remembers Getty.
"I never saw two gamblers like them.''
Bob Dean remembers the time Kwong and Bright couldn't find any action.
"One day it was so miserable outside that there just wasn't anything to do. Nobody else was around. Normie and Jackie just sat there and stared out the window. All of a sudden one of them says, '$10 on the rain drops and I've got this one.' They sat there betting on which raindrop would get to the bottom of the window pane first.''
They'd bet on anything.
"Elevators,'' said Getty. "They'd bet on elevators. They'd stand on a floor and bet on which elevator would arrive first.''
When Bright and Kwong weren't knocking people down, they did standup comedy.
"I always used to kid Kwong that in 10 years he scored 70 touchdowns and if you looked it up, he only had 70 yards rushing,'' Bright once joked. "I'd lug the ball down the field to the one and he'd carry it in.''
Of course, Kwong had the last word.
"If he blocked for me like I did for him, I'd have won the rushing title every year.''
Kwong actually scored 77 touchdowns and rushed for 8,769 yards. Officially. Actually, he had better stats than that. The league didn't register statistics from the first couple of years of Kwong's career.
Kwong was an 18-year-old kid with the Stampeders when they took the trip by train to Toronto in 1948 along with all the horses and chuckwagons and rootin' tootin' Calgary fans to make the Grey Cup what it is today. To be part of that one team would be claim to fame enough for anybody. But to be part of the three-in-a-row Eskimos run in 1954-55-56 is another.
AN OWNER OF THE FLAMES
Kwong, who'd return to Calgary at the completion of his career and become an owner of the Calgary Flames NHL franchise, eventually returned to football as a general manager during the SOS days of the Stampeders, three decades after the completion of his career in Edmonton. He gave the organization the stability Wally Buono went on to use for a decade to put the Stampeders back on top of the CFL.
Kwong won the Schenley Award as top Canadian in 1955 and 1956. When it's officially announced next week that he's been named the new Lieutenant Governor, he'll have just won the award for top Albertan.
It's been said that it's impossible to replace Lois Hole. If anybody can come close it'll be Lt.-Gov. Normie Kwong. It's impossible not to love this guy. He'll do such a terrific job, you'll want to hug him, too.