Time now for another edition of the history of CFL uniforms where we really just get reacquainted with yesterday’s star players, learn some quirky facts about this game we love while occasionally commenting on stripes.
So, let’s get to know more about the Edmonton Football Team!
Without knowing who this player is, I can tell the exact year this picture comes from. The year is 1996. How do I know that? Take a look at the right shoulder pad of this player. You will notice the expression “Radically Canadian” with a CFL logo in the middle. In 1996, with the American expansion experiment now over (RIP Baltimore Stallions), the league launched their Radically Canadian marketing campaign. It was meant to stir things up, an attempt to make the CFL more edgy. It lasted about as long as the Birmingham Barracudas. I’m not here to be critical of the campaign, not every idea is going to be a winner especially when you deviate from your normal course of business. For those who don’t remember this aggressive marketing crusade spawned the “Our Balls Are Bigger” slogan. Beyond this being a semi-cringey attempt to bring in new fans, it was also inaccurate. Kent Austin, then the quarterback for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, commenting on the size of CFL footballs said: “There’s no difference in the balls now. I used to have a tough time holding CFL footballs because they were so big. But they’re the same size as the NFL balls these days.”
I understand what the league was trying to do, to put some distance with failed American franchises and try a different approach to engage the Canadian sporting public. Just like New Coke, not every idea is going to be a home run. I look back at the whole “Radically Canadian” movement the same way as the glowing hockey puck that FOX tried. I’m glad they tried to be different and creative and I’m equally glad it didn’t last long.
Getting to know such greats from our past, like former defensive linemen Dave Fennell and his wonderful moustache, is why I have loved doing this uniform series. I kind of knew the name but after reading up about him I’m embarrassed that my knowledge was so limited. When I think of Edmonton’s run of five consecutive Grey Cup wins from 1978 to 1982, my mind automatically goes to Warren Moon. But on the other side of the ball was multiple all-star Fennell, who was named the CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 1978. Dave would go on to be enshrined into the CFL Hall of Fame. Of course, if you really want to measure just how good a player he was forgot about all the statistics and awards he won; all you need to know is that Dave’s nickname was “Doctor Death.” A soft tackling lineman who can be single blocked by a halfback would never be bestowed with such an awesome name. You have to be off the chart dominating to get such a handle!
Speaking of nicknames, Edmonton can lay claim to one of the best in CFL history. I had no idea their defensive line during the 1970’s was called “Alberta Crude”! Along with David Boone, Bill Stevenson and Ron Estay, Fennell was a part of one most feared, chaos creating defensive fronts in football. The CFL is certainly bigger, faster and far more talented now than it was 40 years ago but we really have fallen behind when it comes to nicknames. Can we nominate Willie Jefferson as “Doctor Death”? The 2016 Calgary defensive line, nay that entire defence, certainly deserves the “Albert Crude” moniker.
All right, I should get back to at least mentioning the uniforms. What I admire about the history of Edmonton’s uniforms was their simplicity. They didn’t try to overdo it, there is no scatter shot of colours or pointless stripes going in every direction. Just simple, effective outfits where everything kind of works no matter the decade. Also I spent way too much time zoomed in on the ball carriers eyes. I can’t tell if he is filled with terror or if just really concentrating on his down field blocking.
What I love about this picture is less about the uniform and more about the football pose. Ed Hervey looks like he is about to race 50 yards downfield making multiple defenders tackle air. If someone said what a football player would look like trying to imitate Spiderman, this would be it.
Time for a quick fun fact. Did you know that in 2016 Ed would receive his Bachelor of Arts degree in multidisciplinary studies from the University of Nevada? He was drafted in 1995 and never got his degree but Hervey promised his family he would one day get that diploma.
Remember earlier when I praised Edmonton for their simple uniforms? Well maybe they went a little too much in that direction back in the 1950s. This white-on-white combination with nothing on the helmets needs to be spruced up. I’m not saying go full bedazzle on it but at a couple stripes or some sort of menacing animal would be nice. I think we can all agree that Hall of Famer Norman Kwong would have looked even better running through tacklers with at least a little bit of flair.
For many of us we got to know Norman Kwong back in 2016 when he passed away. But just in case anyone doesn’t know who he is let me present a partial list of his accomplishments:
– Was the first Chinese Canadian to play in the Canadian Football League
– Played in 183 games putting up 9,022 total yards and scoring 83 touchdowns
– Had more than 30 CFL records when he retired in 1960
– Canadian Football Hall of Fame member
– Member of the Order of Canada
My favourite Mr. Kwong fact is that he is one of just a handful of Canadians to have won the Grey Cup and the Stanley Cup as he was the co-owner of the Calgary Flames when they defeated the Montreal Canadiens in the 1989 Stanley Cup Finals.
I love this quote about Kwong from Mike Smith-Knutsen, host of a podcast about the Edmonton Football Team: “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.”
I have no idea if that is true but I sure hope it is.
Finally, I am of course contractually obligated to finish with a Warren Moon action shot. When you think about what a member of the Edmonton Football Team should look like this is what you imagine, isn’t it? The perfect balance of green, gold and white, the right number of stripes with the capital E’s merged just right where they should be.
When you have a spare five minutes (and really who doesn’t right now??) check out this 1-on-1 Moon did with then CFL Commissioner Jeffrey Orridge about his time in the league and the pressure he felt being an African American quarterback in the 1970’s. Go to the 2:35 and admire a beautiful deep ball and of course all that Green and Gold.
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