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First they lost their team name, now they’ve let go of the most Edmonton part of the Canadian Football League club in this city.
Dwayne Mandrusiak, who besides being the long-time equipment manager is also the personification of living history with the double-E, not to mention the very glue at the ground floor of Commonwealth Stadium, has been permanently let go after 49 years of service.
The news was first broken on Twitter by 630 CHED’s Dave Campbell on Tuesday evening, prompting a rush of responses from not only fans and media, but players both past and present.
“That’s gotta be a sick joke,” double-E offensive lineman Jacob Ruby replied.
Of course, the waves reverberated well outside of the locker-room Mandrusiak took so much pride in keeping meticulously detailed since even before becoming the head equipment man just as Commonwealth Stadium was opening in 1978.
“Hard to imagine what the Eskimos franchise will look like without @DRockEsks as part of the team’s fabric,” said three-time Grey Cup champion offensive lineman Chris Morris, now head coach of the University of Alberta Golden Bears program. “Impossible to replace someone who has lived and breathed in what was one of the greatest championship cultures in the history of the CFL.
“Dwayne is simply irreplaceable.”
Since his first days as a ball boy in 1971, Mandrusiak has been a part of 11 Grey Cup titles, including the never-to-be-matched five in a row that began just as he took over the locker-room (1975, ’78-82, ’87, ’93, 2003, ’05 and ’15).
“Jason Maas used to make sure everyone on the roster knew that Pops was the most important man in franchise history,” said Toronto Argonauts receiver, Sportsnet NFL analyst and All Ball podcast host Natey Adjei, who spent four seasons in Edmonton. “I’m absolutely shocked. It’s sad because whoever made this decision probably won’t be around the team half as long as Pops was. What an absolute disappointment.”
Mandrusiak, who was temporarily laid off in May , was among a crew of permanent layoffs including the entire equipment staff as well as Darlene Hasinoff, who worked in ticketing for 15 years, according to Campbell.
While president Chris Presson has hit his one-year anniversary with the club this month, one source says an “organizational reset” is currently underway inside Commonwealth, much of which is being driven by Brock Sunderland in his fourth year as double-E general manager, while “the board is very active in day-to-day” operations currently being run by a skeleton staff.
And while Mandrusiak was one in a list of casualties, not only within the Edmonton organization, but across the CFL and beyond, brought about by the cancellation of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, the biggest shame has been how the club has fumbled the public relations side of things in the removal of someone who is an absolute institution in Edmonton sports.
The only statement from the club was that there would be no statement in regards to Mandrusiak, specifically.
Perhaps the biggest question in all of it is what would make him want to put in all the long hours, not to mention the blood – which is green and gold, by the way – sweat and tears over the years to keep the Edmonton machine running for what can only be imagined as meagre pay – even by CFL terms– in the first place?
“It’s funny, I talked to Dwayne today and he said the same thing I’ve always said: ‘I’ve never worked a day in my life,’” said George Hopkins, Mandrusiak’s counterpart in Calgary who has been working with the Stampeders for almost as long. “We honestly enjoy going to work.
“You don’t do it for the recognition. You don’t do it for the pay. You do it for the love. And we’re incredibly fortunate to do what we do for a living because most people can’t say that they’ve never had a bad day at work.”
The CFL’s Battle of Alberta always took a different twist for the two equipment managers involved.
“On my 50th birthday, we were getting killed by the Stamps and with a couple minutes left in the game, on the scoreboard there was a message wishing me a happy 50th birthday from the Calgary Stampeders,” Mandrusiak recalled on what would have been the 2020 edition of the Labour Day Classic. “I looked across the field and George Hopkins was laughing his ass off.”
The two put the friend in friendly competition.
“We go way back. We go back to single-bar facemasks for (Pete) sakes, and both of us had a lot more hair,” said Hopkins, pointing to the 1975 Grey Cup Week as the moment they would become lifelong friends. “We worked with each other pretty closely that week and that was kind of the start of our friendship.
“Dwayne started in ’71, I started in ’72. I took over in ’77 and Dwayne took over as the head guy in ’78. I always give him a bad time that he’s got one more year with his organization, but I’ve got one more year as the head guy.”
It’s a rivalry Hopkins is not happy to be seeing tipping solely in his favour from now on, either.
“I’ve been numb since yesterday, and I’m not going to say anything, but it’s wrong in so many ways,” Hopkins said. “Here’s two guys whose cities can’t stand each other, but we get along exceptionally well. I never liked the team, but I’ve always had the utmost respect for the organization there and it was because of Dwayne. He embodied everything there was about The Eskimo Way.
E-mail: [email protected]
On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge
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