MANKATO – The Vikings are heading into their 57th season. They have had two equipment managers.
Jimmy “Stubby” Eason handled the job from 1961 until 1980 before losing his battle with lung cancer in 1981. A young pup named Dennis Ryan joined Stubby’s staff in 1975, got promoted in 1981 and will be going as strong as ever Wednesday morning as he oversees the final stages of packing the team up and leaving Mankato for the last time.
Asked if he will miss Mankato when training camp shifts to the team’s new headquarters in Eagan next year, Ryan smiled, paused and said: “I’ll miss the people. I won’t miss much else.”
Imagine you’re the guy responsible for moving an entire NFL operation. You tear everything down, load it, haul it, unload it, set it up and … repeat it all a few weeks later. And everything is on your plate, from jocks and socks to a pair of 18-wheel semitrailer trucks filled with nothing but weight-room equipment.
“It’s grown immensely over the years,” Ryan said. “We used to come down in three 26-foot trucks. Now, we need seven semitrailers.”
It took Ryan’s staff of five people the better part of two weeks to move all the equipment from Winter Park to Minnesota State Mankato and set it up.
“It goes a lot faster going the other way,” Ryan said. “That’s because it has to.”
Ryan, 58, isn’t one to long for the good, old days. He likes modern central air and industrial-sized washers and dryers way too much.
“Back in the day, we’d be sitting around all sweaty, with fans blowing on us,” Ryan said. “We’d have fly swatters nearby, those no-pest strips hanging from the ceiling. The facilities here got less cramped and so much better.”
Mankato now has three massive washers and dryers. That’s vital when 90 sweaty men need laundry done every day.
“When I first started, all we had was one little washer and dryer,” Ryan said. “So we sent everything out to the local dry cleaner.”
That worked. But there was one notable hiccup.
“In 1993 or so, we got a call about 6:30 or 7 at night from our dry cleaner,” Ryan said. “The guy says, ‘We got bad news. One of the hampers of laundry got stolen.’ I said, ‘Stolen!?’ He said, ‘When I went into the store with one hamper, someone stole the other one out of my truck.’ ”
Back then, Ryan would give the dry cleaner two hampers. Jocks, socks and T-shirts in one. Jerseys and pants in the other.
“I was praying it was the jocks, socks and T-shirts they stole,” Ryan said. “He said, ‘Nope, it was the jerseys and pants.’ I said, ‘You got to be kidding me!’ I got 80 guys to outfit for practice in the morning and we don’t have pants and jerseys? We didn’t have any other practice pants.”
That’s when the football gods — or maybe Stubby — smiled down upon Ryan.
“We got a call a couple hours later,” Ryan said. “It’s the St. Peter police. They pulled a van over in St. Peter. And they found our hamper in the van. The guys in the van spent the night in the hokey and we got our stuff back.”
The State Patrol met the dry cleaner along Hwy. 169. The hamper was handed off. And the next morning, everyone was in a clean uniform.
Crisis averted. Again.
“Being an equipment manager isn’t easy,” said Jerry Reichow, who has been with the team since its inception as a player (1961-64), front office official or consultant. “When [Norm] Van Brocklin was the coach, he’d get mad and fire Stubby three or four times every road trip. They’d go out at night and Van Brocklin would get to drinking and he’d tell Stubby, ‘You’re fired!’
“The next morning, Van Brocklin would be yelling, ‘Stubby, where’s my coffee?’ And Stubby would say, ‘But you fired me last night.’ Van Brocklin would say, ‘Ah, get over here.’ Stubby was a special person. And he trained this guy [Ryan] pretty well.”