VANCOUVER â€” Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, cheated death on 9/11, when terrorists struck the World Trade Center in New York, because of a hangover. He slept in, ran late, and missed his fateful flight.
â€œWe need to feel that something was meant to be,â€� MacFarlane told Penthouse magazine. â€œItâ€™s a lot of horse (bleep).This is not the first flight I missed for being a little too party-hearty the night before.â€�
Decades later, however, the memory of a doomed flight on which her future husband, Edmonton Eskimos fullback Normie Kwong, was supposed to have been a passenger still haunts his wife, Mary.
â€œI tried to block out the memory,â€� she said in a telephone interview. â€œIt was a shock at the time. Fifty-six years later, itâ€™s still scary. I wouldnâ€™t have gotten married to Norman. My (four) boys wouldnâ€™t be here. The crash still comes up from time to time. I think not only about the players who were killed, but all those people.â€�
The crash of Trans-Canada Airlines flight No. 810 on Mount Slesse, near Chilliwack, is the latest installment of the eight-part TSN series, Engraved On a Nation, to be aired on Friday evening. The series runs in conjunction with a celebration of the 100th Grey Cup game, scheduled for Toronto on Nov. 25.
Fate and football were inextricably entwined on Dec. 9, 1956, when players headed to Vancouver airport for a flight to Calgary following the East-West all-star game at Empire Stadium. Stars of the day such as Bud Grant, Bob McNamara, Jackie Parker and Kwong, the future lieutenant-governor of Alberta, president of the Calgary Stampeders and part-owner of the Calgary Flames, were ticketed to ride on the four-engined, piston-driven DC-4 North Star. They never made it, through a variety of circumstances. For Normie Kwong, it was because he was smitten with a girl, a former cheerleader at King Edward high school in Vancouver, the young woman who is now his wife.
â€œEverybodyâ€™s had situations like that where youâ€™ve made the right choice, or a lucky choice, and your life has turned out differently,â€� said Kwong, now 83, and retired in Calgary. â€œItâ€™s been a pretty good life for me. Iâ€™ve been fortunate.â€�
Not so Saskatchewan Roughriders Mel Becket, Mario DeMarco, Ray Syrnyk and Gordon Sturtridge. They and Winnipeg Blue Bomber offensive lineman Calvin Jones, the Outland Trophy winner from Iowa, were among the 62 killed on board
when Flight 810 slammed into Mount Slesse, known as â€œThe Fangâ€�, as it made an attempt to return to Vancouver because of icing conditions before it disappeared over the Cascade Mountains. It still remains Western Canadaâ€™s worst aviation disaster.
â€œThe Crashâ€�, directed by Montreal film maker Paul Cowan, approaches the subject from the perspective of Edwin Harrison, a 27-year-old lineman with the Calgary Stampeders who happens to be the grandson of Calvin Jones.
A guard, Jones became the first collegiate football player ever to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated in its inaugural year (1954). A year later, he became the first black player to win the Outland Trophy as the top lineman in U.S. college football.
â€œToday, he would have been a first-rounder in the NFL draft,â€� Cowan said. â€œBut because he was black, that made a difference. But it made almost no difference in Canada. He was not discriminated against, and the CFL paid more money. So Bud (Grant) talked him into coming to Canada.â€�
On the morning of his death, Jones was supposed to have gone out on an earlier flight with Grant, McNamara and another Winnipeg teammate, Gordie Rowland. But he slept in. Despite the urgings of Grant and McNamara to jump in a cab and meet them at the airport, he decided to take his chances on Flight 810.
â€œBud (Grant, who later coached the Minnesota Vikings to four Super Bowl appearances) is not the type of guy to look backward,â€� Cowan said. â€œBut every time Bob (McNamara) sees him, he buys Bud a drink, for insisting on taking that earlier flight.â€�
At Iowa, Jones wore jersey No. 62 — coincidentally, the same number of lives lost on Flight 810. As a tribute to his grandfather, Harrison made the switch to the same number this year with the Stampeders.
He made the three-hour trek up Mount Slesse with his new bride, Kishanda, and Cowan during the Stampedersâ€™ bye
week in August, to visit a cairn dedicated to the victims and film the final segment of â€œThe Crash.â€�
The debris field, still visible when the snow melts, was declared an official heritage site by the B.C. government in 1995.
â€œIt (the hike) was hard for Boomer (Harrison),â€� Cowan said. â€œHe weighs 300 pounds. But he wanted to go there.â€�
â€œEmotionally, it really brought a lot of closure for myself and my family,â€� Harrison told the Calgary Herald. â€œI left my first pair of No. 62 cleats there. It was a very humbling and awesome experience.â€�
Itâ€™s Cowanâ€™s hope that â€œThe Crashâ€� will have the same power to fascinate and move others unfamiliar with this tragic piece of CFL history.
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