When the shock of golf icon Tiger Woods’ car crash in Los Angeles settled in my mind last week, I was thinking of another car accident involving an athlete — one that occurred a long time ago and much closer to home.
It was the fall of 1956.
I was an 18-year-old freshman arriving on the St. Francis Xavier University campus in Antigonish. I was registered as an engineering student, though my heart was firmly set on being a sportswriter.
In the first couple of days there, I met some of the key people in the athletic department before I had even made acquaintances with my professors.
One of my first achievements was signing up to write sports for the campus newspaper, the Xaverian Weekly. My first interview — with new football coach Don Loney — was the beginning of a friendship that lasted until his death.
I met one of the veteran football players that day, too.
John (Packy) McFarland, who had come to Nova Scotia from Portland, Maine, four years earlier, graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in the spring of ‘56. He had played varsity rugby for X, switched to football when the university entered that sport, and also excelled as a varsity basketball player.
When I met up with him, he was back in Antigonish to obtain an education degree and, he hoped, another season of football.
Fate, however, interrupted his plans.
The new season was barely underway when he was seriously hurt in a car crash. His playing days ended just like that.
Packy went back home after the 1956-57 school year, probably thinking it was the end of his association with St. FX.
He was teaching and coaching in Maine when, in 1960, university president Dr. Hugh Somers made him an offer he couldn’t resist.
It didn’t take him long to return to the cathedral town.
He was appointed head coach of the varsity basketball team and assistant coach of the football club.
A long and rewarding association with his alma mater followed.
He had good runs with both programs — 15 years in the basketball job and 10 years with the football club.
But there was more. Much more.
As the years passed, he was a professor in a newly-created phys-ed program, an administrator, a supporter and friend of the university.
Packy was also a popular and familiar face everywhere he went.
Then, in 1991, fate struck again.
Athletic director Rev. George Kehoe, previously a coach of the hockey team, was killed in a car accident — just days before Christmas. The St. FX community was in shock.
Packy had been assisting Father Kehoe and, a few months later, he was named the new athletic director.
Another job he handled superbly.
He probably believed it was a stop-gap assignment, but he got to love that position like all the others. He remained in the office for eight years — until retirement in 2000.
Under his watch, the basketball team he used to play for became CIAU national champions in 1993. Three years later, the football squad won the AUAA title and the Atlantic Bowl.
Packy did something else in 1971.
He authored a book, 75 Years of Hockey, to mark the university’s long run on ice. The sport was marking three-quarters of a century, having started way back in 1896.
That publication 50 years ago means the hockey program is marking its 125th anniversary in 2021.
With his book — like with everything else at X — Packy was thinking of someone else at the time of writing.
His dedication: “To the Rev. Leo G. (Pops) McKenna — who has not only given a lifetime to the classrooms, fields and rinks of St. Francis Xavier University but has always given unstintingly of himself to the students of this university.”
That tribute could just as easily be applied to Packy himself — a man I’ve admired for six decades.
Packy had lots of amazing material in his publication.
The St. FX hockey machine, to that date, had a tremendous record of 298 wins, 73 losses and 21 ties against Maritime intercollegiate teams.
His research was extensive — such as the names and statistics of every player who wore the blood and white in that 75-year period. What an effort it must have been recording the scores of all the games.
Talk about memories. I saw a lot of St. FX’s games in the early 1950s because, at that time, the team was competing not only in college ranks but also in senior hockey.
My opinion for a long time has been that the 1950-51 X-Men — who played a lot of games in New Glasgow — was the best of all the X teams.
That year they were Nova Scotia and Maritime intercollegiate champions, APC Senior Hockey League winners, as well as Maritime senior champs and a trip to the national Allan Cup semi-finals.
When you browse through Packy’s research on that one team alone, you learn that the roster included a 60-goal scorer, a 40-goal scorer, two 35-goal scorers, a 33-goal scorer, a 31-goal scorer and a 30-goal scorer. And they played only 50 games.
Like all careers, the day came for Packy to retire.
At the time, I interviewed him and he admitted there was another huge thing in his life that made him a proud man.
He and his wife, whom he lost just shortly before that, raised eight children in Antigonish and — get this — every one of them attended St. FX, every one of them obtained an X ring.
As many Pictonians know, Packy now lives in Pictou County — on the road that leads into the Abercrombie Golf Club.
When I think of him, I find it hard to believe it’s been 60-plus years since our friendship began that afternoon on the football field.
Truly, Packy has been a true Xaverian in so many ways.