Saturday, March 24, 2007

Remembering a tower of strength

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 center.
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 in a flick called "Running Brave."
But besides Stevenson's photo there was also a column, which I wrote for the Edmonton Sun, 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."

Later in the column from Friday, Jan. 16, 1981 I wrote:
"Little Bill, whose main responsibilities will be promotion and "seeing people keep coming back," has already interested fellow Eskimos such as Angelo Santucci, Tom Towns, David Boone and Dan Kepley ... Stevenson, who has given up his horse-breeding interests, is so enthused about his fitness project that he intends to move his family of a wife and two small children into the city from their present abode nine miles west of this hamlet (Edmonton).
A few days ago, CBC sportscaster John Wells indicated Stevenson was 45 pounds overweight. However, Little Bill took affront to this and I hope for Wells' sake that he doesn't run into Stevenson for he looked mean as he bashed a piece of his new machinery.
"I'm going to be in the best shape I've ever been in," grimaced Stevenson, contemplating the 1981 CFL season. I believe him."

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, 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 56.

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Editor Corbett

Editor Corbett