Long before these days of specialized athletes whose focus is acutely narrowed to one sport, there was George Alexander.
An original member of the Calgary Stampeders, Alexander did it all for decades — from the 1930s to the ’70s — playing and winning city, provincial and national titles in countless sports.
Alexander, who died Oct. 7 at age 93, also was a member of the Calgary Bronks football team in 1940 before it folded for the war, then was an original star member of the Calgary Stampeders football team from 1945-47.
“George … is the greatest natural all-around athlete Calgary has ever produced,” renowned Calgary sportswriter and sportscaster Eric Bishop, who covered the Stampeders for the Herald in 1945, insisted in a 1961 article. “He played football, hockey, semi-pro hockey, fastball, baseball, curling, handball, golf, soccer, bowling, tennis, track and basketball.”
Alexander also coached several sports at high levels, including the national all-star women’s softball team, which was voted the best defensive team at the world championships in Melbourne, Australia, in 1964.
As well, he managed to fit in a 35-year career with the Calgary Fire Department, in which he retired as Captain.
“I believe that of all the athletes born and raised in this province, George deserves to be in the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame,” said Bob Rowe, a longtime friend of Alexander. “The reason is because he was a champion in multiple disciplines.”
Dunc Scott, former Calgary Herald sportswriter, also wrote in the early 1960s that if we named an all-around athlete in the city’s history, “George would win hands down.”
Scott, in his article, described one of George Alexander’s weekends in the 1940s that would cripple almost any athlete.
He said Alexander played fastball on Friday night, then worked a night shift with the fire department, played baseball again on Saturday morning, football on Saturday night, another work shift, then fastball in Edmonton on Sunday, another shift and flew to Winnipeg on Monday night to play football.
Perhaps Alexander’s most memorable game with the Stampeders came in their first western final in Winnipeg on Nov. 10, 1945, when he caught a 60-yard pass-and-run touchdown from Harry Hobbs.
The five-point major, as it was then worth, put Calgary ahead 5-0. The Stampeders led 5-3 until late in the fourth quarter when Blue Bombers’ Paul Boivin barrelled over for the winning touchdown, to make it 9-5, and took away the Stamps’ trip to the Grey Cup.
In a conversation last year with Alexander, he recalled his touchdown play vividly.
“I was about 20 yards downfield and had two defenders on me when Harry threw the ball,” Alexander said. “The two defenders collided and fell, I twisted around and caught the ball and had nothing but open field for the final 40 yards.”
Alexander, though, true to his competitive nature, concentrated more on a mistake he felt he made later in the game.
Unfortunately, his career with the Stampeders ended a year short of the 1948 undefeated Grey Cup champions. At training camp, a feud developed with legendary teammate Fritz Hanson, who complained to head coach Les Lear that Alexander hit too hard. Lear, who had played with Hanson in Winnipeg before coming to Calgary, responded by cutting Alexander.
Alexander, who was born in Calgary, graduated from Western Canada High School before joining the navy during the Second World War.
Without football, he continued to excel at other sports and began his fire department career. At one time he played with five fastball and baseball teams, as well as working his job.
He was also a student of curling, skipping winning teams at the Calgary Winter Club.
Alexander, who was predeceased by his wife Helen, is survived by his children Sandra, Ricki and Georgette, as well as his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.