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Former players picking up where Edmonton Football Club fumbled away Mandrusiak's farewell

Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray checks out a tour of the new facilities under construction at Commonwealth Stadium alongside team equipment manager Dwayne Mandrusiak in this file photo taken May 21, 2010.
Edmonton quarterback Ricky Ray checks out a tour of the new facilities under construction at Commonwealth Stadium alongside team equipment manager Dwayne Mandrusiak in this file photo taken May 21, 2010.

Where the Edmonton Football Club fumbled in regards to its longest serving member, players have picked up the ball and are running with it.

A group of former ‘Once-an-Always-an’s are combing the list of alumni and other long-time staples throughout the league in search of short messages paying tribute to venerable equipment manager Dwayne Mandrusiak, who was unceremoniously dismissed along with a host of fellow employees as the Canadian Football League continues to struggle with the financial fallout of a cancelled season.

While the decision was always inevitable, given Mandrusiak would have been working his 50th season with the club in 2020, it drew the ire of many both within the football community and its fandom with the way it happened.

There was no statement from the club. News was broken by veteran colour analyst Dave Campbell of 630 CHED on Tuesday. When pressed by media in the city, the club released about the most non-statement statement imaginable.

“We are unable to comment on the specific employment status of current or former employees as this is personal, private and confidential information,” read the unattributed release. “COVID-19 has taken a toll on many businesses and ours is no exception. With the cancellation of our 2020 season, we have had to make and continue to make tough choices. This, unfortunately, has included ongoing staff reductions.

“We do not take these choices lightly and continue to strive to make decisions to ensure the ongoing viability of the team.”

Eighty-seven words, when all they needed were three: ‘Thank you, Dwayne.’

While making the “tough choices” falls on the top brass of president Chris Presson and general manager Brock Sunderaland, the question is whether or not the board signed off on letting Mandrusiak go off so quietly into the night.

If not, you have to wonder what is really going on.

And if so, how did they not have a sense to recognize his historic value to both club and community? Especially when one of the nine board members, Tom Richards, literally had Mandrusiak give him the shirt to wear on his back during five seasons as a receiver with the team in the 1980s.

So, apparently it must now fall on others who have shared that locker-room space with Mandrusiak since 1971 to put together a more fitting farewell.

“I bet you he’s seen hundreds of head coaches,” said Toronto Argonauts receiver Natey Adjei, who is working as an NFL analyst for Sportsnet in the wake of the cancellation, and spent the previous four seasons in Edmonton.

While it’s not in the triple digits, the still-impressive list includes the likes of Hugh Campbell and his five-in-a-row championships, Jackie Parker, Ron Lancaster and Don Matthews, to name a few of the 15 to hold that title in Mandrusiak’s time.

“I’m obviously exaggerating, but he’s seen head coaches, GMs and presidents come through and he’s been the one constant,” Adjei said after being approached by the group to share a message for Mandrusiak. “And now he’s out and the person making the decision probably isn’t going to be there half as long. It’s unbelievable.”

While he was officially the equipment manager, legend holds Mandrusiak had as much power as anyone when it came to releasing any bad apples from the roster.

“That’s so true,” Adjei said. “I remember at every training camp, (former head) coach (Jason) Maas started off by saying, ‘Dwayne Mandrusiak is somebody you do not mess with in this organization. He has more power than even me.’

“I mean, nobody would mess with him anyway, but everybody knew if you weren’t in line, he would have the power to have you cut if you were disrespectful toward him. So it’s a shock that it happened like this. I know all of Edmonton and probably all of the CFL is reeling right now because that’s one thing you don’t expect.

“You expect Dwayne Mandrusiak to be in Edmonton for as long as he wants to be in Edmonton and I don’t know why it happened, but it’s a shame, it’s a disgrace, it’s all the adjectives you can think of. It’s not right.”

Equipment manager Danny Webb has been with the Argos since 1984 and Adjei couldn’t imagine anyone else running that dressing room.

“You can’t, these guys have been there forever,” he said, also pointing to Calgary Stampeders equipment manager George Hopkins, who started the year after Mandrusiak. “Dwayne’s been with Edmonton longer than I’ve been alive. Ever since I’ve been watching CFL football, you understand these guys are part of the institution, they’re the engines that make these places run.

“They’ve seen everything. All the memories I have of CFL football, these guys have seen it and been a part of it, so it’s unbelievable that we’re doing this right now. And I know it’s a sign of 2020, but the bottom line is some things just go above the bottom line. This is about honour, this is about respect and legacy and this is something I don’t think they could ever live down.”

E-mail: gmoddejonge@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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