RIP "China Clipper"

Sad to hear Normie Kwong passed away today.

CFL legend Kwong dead at 86
The Canadian Press September 3/2016

CALGARY — The China Clipper sailed to the rescue of more than one professional sports team — as a bruising football fullback, a tenacious front-office manager in the CFL and part-owner of his home-town hockey squad, the Calgary Flames.

Norman Kwong, who was the first Chinese Canadian to play in the CFL and who later served as Alberta's lieutenant governor, died Saturday at the age of 86.

"Mr. Kwong was proud to be the son of Chinese immigrants. He was an Alberta success story from an early age. From his storied career in the Canadian Football League to his later co-ownership of the Calgary Flames, he was a champion on the field of play and in life," Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said in a statement.

"He gave his time generously to non-profit and voluntary organizations across the country. His contributions to public life earned him many honours, including the Order of Canada."

A statement by Kwong's family said that he died peacefully in his sleep.

Kwong was a personable and good-natured man who regaled banquet crowds with humorous stories about his 13-year football career with the Edmonton Eskimos and Calgary Stampeders. He often jokingly referred to himself as "The Living Legend."

At 18 with the Stampeders, the Calgary-born Kwong was the youngest player to win the Grey Cup.

Kwong liked to tell the story about how, after he had fumbled the ball on his first carry three games in a row in 1952, his coach taped a football to his arm and made him wear it around for a week.

But under his smiling, easy-going street demeanour, the 5-foot 9, 190-pound Kwong was a unrelenting, ferocious running back.

His 1955 pursuit of the league rushing record exemplified his tenacity.

Trailing Winnipeg's Gerry James by 149 yards going into the last regular season game of the year, Kwong refused to give up.

The Edmonton Journal's Jim Brooke would later report on October 31, 1955 that the Eskimos' 30-5 victory over the hapless Calgary Stampeders "was secondary to the Saga of the China Clipper."

"An unstoppable human battering ram named Normie Kwong rewrote the record book at Clarke Stadium Saturday night, his flying cleats stamped the exclamation points of greatness across the hallowed pages reserved for deeds of a select few," gushed Brooke. "Only a super-human effort could guarantee success in the face of such odds. That effort was forthcoming.

"Behind the inspired blocking of his teammates, Kwong was a crashing, relentless force that would not be denied."

Number 95 rushed for 192 yards that day, smashing the record for yards in a single game, most carries in a season and most rushing attempts in a single game. He set the new season rushing mark at 1,250 yards.

The China Clipper continued his heroics in the 1955 Grey Cup against the Montreal Alouettes in Vancouver, setting records with his 30 carries and 145 yards rushing.

The Eskimos, with Kwong and Johnny Bright as their turf-pounding running back tandem and Jackie Parker and later, former Alberta Premier Don Getty, at quarterback, won that Grey Cup. They added another the next year to string together three in a row between 1954 and 1956.

When Kwong retired from playing football in 1960, he held 30 CFL records and two Schenley Awards as the league's outstanding Canadian.

He was voted Canada's athlete of the year in 1955, beating out teammate Jackie Parker and hockey legend Rocket Richard on a list of Canadian heroes that now includes such greats as Wayne Gretzky and Gordie Howe.

He rushed for 9,022 yards in his career, the third-highest total in CFL history, won four Grey Cups and gained 1,000 yards a season five times. He was selected all-Canadian five times and voted to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1969.

His 192 yards rushing in a single game stood for 45 years until it was broken by Sean Millington in 1999.

After retiring as a player in 1960, Kwong gained weight but still kept the squat, muscular look of his playing days. He established a successful career in real estate and became part-owner and director of the National Hockey League's Calgary Flames until he sold his interest in 1994.

In 1988 Kwong became president and general manager of his former football squad, the Stampeders. Many credited him with turning around the fortunes of the near-bankrupt franchise at the gate and on the field.

He stepped down four years later but continued to be active in the community, serving as national chairman of the Canadian Consultative Council on Multiculturalism and as honorary chairman of Calgary's Easter Seal Campaign.

Kwong served as lieutenant governor of Alberta from 2005 until 2010.

"He brought an effortless dignity and warm humanity to his vice-regal duties," Notley said.

At the age of 69, Kwong was awarded the Order of Canada in 1998.

He is survived by his wife Mary, four sons and 10 grandchildren.

The family says details on funeral services will follow.

What a great man!

RIP Clipper!

His life would make a great movie. Unbelievable accomplishments, especially as a Chinese Canadian. People should Wiki him..unreal actually.

“Unbelievable accomplishments” is right! What a great human being. RIP Normie

A CFL great! :thup: RIP dear Sir.

Well before my time but a legend none the less. RIP Normie Kwong.

"China Clipper" Loved watching this guy on the field with the other great Eskimos during dynasty of mid 50's.

Actually, I was just thinking that. China Clipper: The Normie Kwong Story

Agreed. Amazing life.

Can only imagine what it was like to be an Asian in a football locker room and on the field back then. Not exactly the most tolerant times. This doesnt even speak to his amazing accomplishments on or off the field for that matter. Truly a Canadian legend

Yes I was surprised/sad to hear this... RIP...

Eskimos great and former Alberta Lieutenant Governor Norman Kwong used to joke about his legacy
Terry Jones, Edmonton Sun September 03, 2016

CALGARY — Normie Kwong used to refer to me as ‘The Voice of Doom.’ When his phone rang and it was your correspondent on the line, his reaction was usually ‘OK, who died?’

Kwong was my go-to-guy to call to talk about an Eskimos teammate who had passed away. He was brilliant with the way he captured the essence of every one of them, offering a treasure trove of anecdotes and memories to celebrate the life of the latest absent friend.

When Kwong died here Saturday at age 86, there were almost no survivors of the 1950s Edmonton Eskimos glory gang to call to offer tribute to him. And nobody deserved the kind of eulogy that Kwong used to deliver only seconds after he absorbed the news of the death of a teammate, as the China Clipper deserves today himself.

He was one of the greatest Canadians ever to play the game and one of the greatest guys — one of the greatest characters — ever to walk through a clubhouse door.

The man who broke into the league with Les Lear’s celebrated 1948 Grey Cup champion Calgary Stampeders team that turned the game into the national celebration it is today, used to be a popular emcee on the sportsman’s dinner circuit, trumpeting himself as ‘The Living Legend.’

He was always making fun of himself when he went into that routine. But when Kwong died here yesterday there was no question that he’d been just that — an actual living legend in far more ways than just a football player.

In Edmonton he was, along with Jackie Parker, Johnny Bright and Rollie Miles, one of the Mount Rushmore figures of the 1954-55-56 Grey Cup champions.

Of course, Kwong, the great comedian, always had fun with that.

For years Bright and Kwong were the stars of the twin fullback formation head coach Pop Ivy invented to accommodate the two talents.

The two carried on a running Vaudeville routine that lasted well into their retirement years.

“In 10 years, Normie scored seventy touchdowns, and if you looked it up, he only had seventy yards rushing. I’d lug it down to the one, and he’d carry it in,? Bright would say.

“If Johnny blocked for me like I blocked for him, I’d have won the rushing title every year,? Kwong would respond.

Kwong actually scored seventy-seven touchdowns and rushed for 8,769 yards, second in club history to Bright’s 9,966. And Kwong’s totals come with an asterisk. The statistics from the first few years of Kwong’s career were never recorded. There were no statistics kept prior to 1952.

Few teams loved life more than the Edmonton Eskimos glory gang of the 1950s.

“Rollie Miles thought of it as a game. Johnny Bright thought of it as a war. Normie Kwong thought of it as a way to promote his laundry business. Jackie Parker thought of it as something to get out of the way so he could get on with the rest of his evening,? said Don Getty, when he inducted them to the Eskimos Wall of Honour years later.

We lost Getty, who went on to become Premier of the province of Alberta, earlier this year.

Kwong had an entire routine he worked up along those lines for sportsmen’s dinners, and always included this bit:

“Rollie Miles asked me one day what it felt like to play in the backfield between Bright and himself. He said ‘You must feel like the lemon icing in a chocolate cookie.’ ?

Kwong always seemed to be in the centre of everything.

“He practical-joked everybody,? said Bright.

Training camp was one of Kwong’s favourite times of the year. Being a Canadian, and one so obviously safe from competition, Kwong would tiptoe around the nervous Americans and have his fun.

“He knew he wasn’t getting cut, and he knew who was edgy,? said Morris. “He’d go to any length. He’d get road maps from every corner of North American, and he’d draw the best routes for the rookie to get home. He didn’t do anything halfway. He even gave rookies a list of three-star motels to stay at along the routes. Then he left the package in the player’s locker.

“He was at his best when Pop Ivy was coach. Pop didn’t like to call guys in to tell them they were cut. He’d just clean out their lockers. Normie loved that. He’d come to the locker room a few hours early and clean out a locker himself. He’d usually pick out a guy who was looking pretty good. I’ll never forget the time John Goff came into the dressing room. He was a good friend of Kwong, and he had the locker next to him. It was empty. He chased Kwong around the dressing room for half an hour trying to get him to confess where he hid his stuff. It really looked like Normie was playing this one to the hilt, and everyone was enjoying it. It turned out Ivy cleaned out the locker. Goff had really been cut.?

Frankie Anderson loved the time Kwong did it to Bob Heidenfelt.

“He was a pretty nice guy, and a pretty religious kid. He came into the room and saw his locker, and his face just dropped. It was the ultimate expression. He just couldn’t believe it. He trudged into Ivy’s office and said ‘Coach, I thought I was doing pretty good …’

“ ‘Kwong, you stupid …’ ? Ivy yelled instantly.

“One thing about Normie, he didn’t play a practical joke on somebody he didn’t like.?

You can’t spin stories about that team without mentioning gambling and drinking.

“I couldn’t believe some of those card games. The money just piled up. On a dead day, Jackie and Normie would play gin as long as they thought they could keep the bus waiting. I never saw two gamblers like them. They’d be standing by the elevators waiting for one to arrive at their floor, and would have a $20 bet on which one was going to stop for them.?

Bob Dean had one of the best stories along those lines.

“I remember one day it was so miserable outside that there just wasn’t anything to do. Nobody else was around. Normie and Jackie sat there and stared out the window. All of a sudden one of them says, ‘Ten dollars on the raindrops and I got this one.’ They sat there betting on which raindrop would get to the bottom of the windowpane first,? said Dean.

Jim Quondamatteo didn’t become one of the legendary names from that team, but in the fun and games department, Bugsy was big.

“Kwong called him ‘Bugsy’ because he looked like one of Al Capone’s boys,? said Frankie Anderson. “I was one of the losers in most of those card games. Kwong, Parker and Bugsy were usually the winners.?

“One day Quondamatteo confessed to me he was really worried he was going deaf,? remembered Kwong. “We were going on a road trip on one of those really noisy North Star planes, so I spread the word. Everybody went up to him and moved their lips as if they were talking to him. ‘Normie, I know I’m going deaf,’ he kept telling me. The topper was when Ivy came up to him and did it, too. Even the stewardess. Even better was the team meeting in Regina. We actually had a guy get up and mouth the whole talk. We had a signal for when to pretend to clap. It was beautiful.?

Bright, a player Kwong had nicknamed ‘Owl Brows’, in his first few years, had a problem of being easy to knock out.

“I’d go up to him and touch him on the head and say ‘Goodnight, John.’ The problem began at Drake University with a fellow named Wilbank Smith, who broke Johnny’s jaw in a famous incident in which the picture made Life magazine. I’d go up behind Johnny and just yell ‘Wilbank’ real loud sometimes.?

Kwong, make no mistake, enjoyed life like few who ever played the game. And, boy, could he play the game.

The Schenley Award winner as most outstanding Canadian in 1955 and 1956, Kwong was the son of immigrants from Canton, China, who was named Canadian athlete of the year in 1955. The following year, Kwong set the CFL record for most yards rushing by a Canadian, with 1,437 yards, the ultimate of the 30 records he established in his career. The record lasted 56 years until Jon Cornish broke it in 18 games, three more than Kwong played to set it.

During his 14-year career, Kwong was a CFL All-Star five times, and a West All-Star eight times. He’s a three-time inductee to the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame, once with the 1948 Calgary Stampeders, once with the 1954-55-56 Eskimos, and once on his own.

Kwong was inducted into the Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1975, but he wasn’t finished his career in sports.

It was, perhaps, fitting that he should die on Labour Day weekend and the traditional Edmonton-Calgary game.

Calgary has an equal reason to celebrate the life of Kwong today, too.

He became a part owner of the Calgary Flames of the NHL, one of the original six businessmen who bought the Atlanta Flames, and moved it to Calgary.

When the Flames won the Stanley Cup in 1989, the man who had his name on the Grey Cup in 1948, 1954, 1955 and 1956, became one of a very short list of people who had their names on both trophies.

Kwong was made president and general manager of the Stampeders in 1988 after a SOS (Save Our Stamps) crisis, promising he’d bring Edmonton Eskimos stability to the organization, and hiring Wally Buono as his head coach. They had Calgary in the Grey Cup game by 1991.

And his life is to be celebrated by all Albertans as well.

Receiving the Order of Canada in 1998, Kwong became the first person of Chinese heritage to be accorded the honour when he was named the 16th Lieutenant Governor of Alberta in 2005. He finished his term in 2010.

Few people in the entire history of Alberta were ever loved by so many as Norman Lim Kwong.

I had the pleasure of meeting NK while he was LG of AB. A kinder, gentler intelligent gent you'll never meet. Could not believe a man of his size excelled at football even given the era...RIP Clipper!