Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Crash: Must See TV

The first thing you'll notice about Calgary Stampeder lineman Edwin Harrison is how much he resembles his fabled grandfather, Winnipeg Blue Bomber linesman Calvin Jones.
That physical likeness is indeed amazing but after you get over that settle back to watch The Crash, the fifth installment of TSN's excellent Engraved On A Nation, a centenary salute to the Grey Cup.
The hourlong The Crash premieres on TSN Friday night at 8 and is must see TV.
It documents the terrifying crash of  Trans Canada flight 810 which crashed right into a mountain near Chilliwack, British Columbia, killing all 62 people onboard including Harrison's grandfather Calvin Jones plus four members of the Saskatchewan Roughriders (Mel Beckett, Mario DeMarco, Gordon Sturtridge, Ray Syrnyk).
Certainly Jones, 23, was an amazing talent. At 23 he already was an All Star and had just finished his rookie season in the CFL after a dazzling college football career.
"I took on the assignment from Infield Fly Productions without realizing the great story I had," says writer-director Paul Cowan.
Because Cowan soon discovered that Jones had just learned he was the father of a baby boy --who he'd never see.
His grilfriend Sandra Lee discovered she was pregnant and rerurned to live with her parents.
After Jones' death the grandparents adopted the boy, Edwin Harrison and raised him as their own.
"I got into the story just as it was enfolding some more," Cowan says. He actually got to document the sometimes awkward reunion of the Jones and Harrison families in an airport waiting room. All there is a wonderfully happy wedding ceremony with Edwin Harrison II in Houston that is a must see.
It turns out he is Edwin's son (and also named Edwin Harrison) and had been researching his family tree and already was beginning to piece together his grandfather's remarkable  but tragically short career.
It's hard to believed but despite his storied college career  (he was a three time All American) Jones was never a first place draft pick of any of the NFL teams.
Racism still dominated U.S. pro-football and indeed all American sports and Jones was black in a lily white era.
So he opted to become a player in the CFL. The salary was actually more at the time --remember this was before TV coverage inflated NFL salaries.
And Canadians couldn't have cared less about Jones' color --it was his ability on the field that dazzled them. Cowan's first rate documentary touches all the bases. The family reunion scenes will have you in tears.
There's genuine suspense as a research team tries to locate the reasons the crash happened crash --the Canadian government has declared it a national cemetery. But Cowan reports "Looting has been going on for a long time. There were stories that an Asian businessman had a large cash stash on board.
"But avalanches have pushed the debris down the slope. Remember at the time there were no satellites. Nobody knew what had happened or where the crash was even located."
For the two Edwins this was a journey to closure.
For the elder Edwin  who has suffered two heart attacks and a broken neck it involved uniting with a part of his family he had never met. For Edwin Jr. it involved constructing a biography of what a great footballer his grandfather really was.
The Crash takes the great game of Canadian football and uses it as a metaphor for survival and continuance. It proves a great ride for viewers like me who only vaguely knew about this tragedy.
MY RATING: ****.

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