Saturday, November 22, 2008

Then all those bright hopes turned grey

Tragedy knows no boundaries.
Bill Stevenson, David Boone, York Hentschel and Dan Kepley were four “stars” from the Edmonton Eskimos’ dynasty of the late 1970s and early ‘80s.
Three of them – happy-go-lucky Stevenson, pleasant and mannerly Boone and non-talkative and introspective Hentschel – died tragic deaths while extremely aggressive Kepley barely survived alcohol and pain killers and jailed twice for impaired driving.
Following Grey Cup Sunday featuring the Calgary Stampeders and the Montreal Alouettes will be the fifth estate’s Head Games on CBC with host Bob McKeown. It was first seen on Wednesday night.
Broadcaster McKeown has a unique perspective on the subject, for he was an all-star centre with the Ottawa Rough Riders, which won the Grey Cup in 1973.
During the period (1978-1986) I lived in Edmonton, I took part in its “wide-open” atmosphere, but didn’t realize the dramatic downturn it would have on these four “stars.”
***
Bill Stevenson was the strongest man I have ever met. And it's fortunate for the world that accompanying that brute strength was a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon.
He was one of those characters from the "unforgettable" category that so seldom crosses one's path.
Every once in a while over the past 25 years or so, I have looked at a photograph of Stevenson as he manhandled heavy iron in his "newly-opened" Edmonton fitness centre.
And at that time he was also giving sage advice to another "incredible bulk," who was planning to work out before re-entering the carnival wrestling ring as a villain (The Viking) in a flick called "Running Brave."
But besides Stevenson's photo there was also a column, which I wrote for the Edmonton Sun in 1981, and it started this way:
"The Marquis de Sade would feel right at home. Long John Silver would look longingly at the racks. Captain Bluebeard would admire the bars, for there are more in this place than on New Orleans' Bourbon Street or Sing Sing.
No, we're not talking about the latest in torture rooms, but Little Bill Stevenson's house of repute, also known as the Edmonton fitness centre.
You know Stevenson? He's the guy with the time zones. The one who's laughter has been known to shatter champagne glasses ala Ella Fitzgerald. He's also been known to shatter a few beer glasses as well.Bill Stevenson is a free spirit. He's one who knows how to work hard. This Eskimo -- football variety -- also is one who doesn't take himself too seriously. In his company, the Mona Lisa might crack a smile (to use a line from the super writer Jim Murray).
Stevenson and his friends have their grand opening today and if you notice him huffing and puffing it's because he's still moving in the furniture and machines into the centre, which undoubtedly will be in a class by itself.
This is the elite of sweat centres, one which comes equipped with hydragym cylinders, Nautilus equipment, a racquetball court, swimming pool, whirlpools and saunas and the major selling feature is that it is “co-educational."
After a stellar career at Drake University, Stevenson was drafted by the NFL Miami Dolphins, but chose to join the Memphis Southmen of the World Football League for the 1974 and 1975 seasons. Then he came home -- to Edmonton -- and became a mainstay with the Eskimos for 14 seasons from 1975 to 1988.
He first proved to be a tower of strength on the vaunted Alberta Crude defensive line with Dave Fennell, Ron Estay and the late David Boone, and then he shifted to protecting his old quarterback Tom Wilkinson on the offensive line.
During his tenure in the CFL, he and the Eskimos claimed seven Grey Cups.
He, seemingly, would be around forever with his love for life and his smile as wide as the Grand Canyon.
However, earlier this week (March, 2007), Bill Stevenson, after apparently going outside for a smoke, fell down some stairs at his mother's home and was taken to Edmonton's Misericordia Hospital where he died at the young age of 55.
However, the fifth estate pointed out that Stevenson, after his playing career was over, fell on hard times, (bankruptcy and divorce) and years of alcohol abuse and destitution. He also suffered from years of “unreported head injuries.”
***
David Boone was an All-Star CFL defensive end with Edmonton, who had played with the Minnesota Vikings, B.C. Lions, Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts. He had suffered years of depression from “unreported head injuries.” The TV program suggested Boone had committed suicide in March, 2005.
***
York Hentschel, from Bentley, Alberta and Drake U., was a defensive end with Edmonton’s “Alberta Crude. “ He would finish up his pro career in 1981 with Hamilton and Winnipeg.
He died in March 2006 of organ failure after suffering years of alcoholism, drug abuse and depression and “unreported head injuries.” He was only 52.
***
Dan Kepley, Edmonton’s ferocious middle linebacker, retired in 1984 and tried to ease the emotional and physical pain with alcohol. After being jailed for impaired driving, Kepley has certainly changed and has been living a booze-free life. He’s now an assistant coach with the Eskimos.

1 Comments:

Blogger Sharisraven said...

Thank you for writing an awesome story on my cousin Bill Stevenson. He was my hero growing up.

January 31, 2012 at 12:33 PM  

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