MacKinnon: Stampeders’ Cornish on verge of smashing Kwong’s Canadian Football League rushing record
Former Eskimos running back’s records have stood the test of time
EDMONTON - It’s about that 56-year-old single-season rushing record, the distinguished gentleman was told, the one Calgary Stampeders tailback Jon Cornish needs just 50 yards to break on Friday night at Commonwealth Stadium.
“That’s what I hear,” said former lieutenant-governor Norman Kwong, who was just plain Normie in his Hall of Fame CFL playing days.
“There’s no way to trip him, or anything, is there?”
That will be up to the Edmonton Eskimos defence, which regrettably hasn’t been able to slow down the swift, explosive Cornish much this season.
In three meetings between the clubs so far, all Calgary victories, Cornish has rushed for 71, 185 and 180 yards, respectively. He has racked up 1,388 yards overall, less than half a football field shy of Kwong’s long-standing mark of 1,437 yards.
That performance record does not augur well for the Eskimos keeping Cornish from breaking the standard Kwong set for Canadian running backs so long ago.
Stopping Cornish, stopping the run, remains an important key to victory in the CFL, which has evolved into a pass-first league since the days of Kwong and Johnny Bright, Jackie Parker and the rest of those triple Grey Cup champion Eskimos teams of the 1950s.
From 1954-56, no CFL team found a way to stop the Eskimos ground game, led by Bright and Kwong, who remain fourth and eighth on the CFL’s all-time rushing list all these decades later.
Bright pounded away for a career total of 10,999 yards, while Kwong slashed for 9,022 yards in his career, which began with the Stampeders in 1948, the year of their CFL-changing Grey Cup victory, and ended in Edmonton following the 1960 season.
Among Canadian running backs, Kwong still ranks first, third and 10th on the list of best single-season rushing totals. The longevity of Kwong’s exploits is the more impressive, considering he played during the era of 16-game regular seasons, not 18 as in the current CFL.
In ’56, Kwong rushed for 100 yards or more in eight of those 16 games, second-most in a single season by an Eskimos running back behind Bright, who had nine 100-yard games in ’57.
“When I’m told, I remember it, but it’s not constantly on my mind,” the self-effacing, 83-year-old Kwong said of the single-season rushing mark. “But it’s certainly a great distinction for me.
“We were much feared in the league. We had some great players in that offence and you can tell by the records that have stood for so long that they were quite outstanding.”
For example, Kwong remains atop the Eskimos’ all-time list for most rushing touchdowns in a career, with 73, four more than Bright, 12 more than Jim Germany, the running back on the five-in-a-row Grey Cup champion Eskimos of the late 1970s and early ’80s.
At the ’55 Grey Cup, Kwong rushed 30 times (still a record), for 145 yards, which set the standard at the time, but was broken by Bright’s 169-yard performance in the ’56 championship game.
“I think (the game) has opened up a bit more for the offence than it used to be,” Kwong said. “We just weren’t as sophisticated as they are now.”
Kwong pays some attention to the CFL, but “I don’t follow it really religiously. I have seen the odd game on TV.”
Understandably, nor does Kwong have much contact with his 1950s Eskimos teammates, who assembled en masse in Edmonton in 2004, the 50th anniversary of that 1954 Grey Cup victory.
“It was a strange feeling, but it was something like seeing your brother after not seeing him for a long time, but still remembering all the things that you did,” Kwong said.
For those too young to remember, a casual glance at the Eskimos media guide or CFL record book will reveal Kwong’s name liberally sprinkled at or near the top of any number of all-time lists.
Cornish is likely to set one of those records aside on Friday night, but that also becomes an occasion to pay homage to Kwong.
The backdrop could hardly be more fitting: the Battle of Alberta, a playoff berth probably on the line for the Eskimos, a Stampeder on the cusp of breaking a long-standing record held by an Eskimos’ Hall of Famer.
“Wonderful, what a setting, that’s great,” Kwong said. “You couldn’t do better with a movie script.”
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