Eskimos grass era remembered

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:17 AM ET

It was a time to introduce the new FieldTurf. But to two people in particular, it was more an occasion to say goodbye to the dearly departed natural grass.

One was Hugh Campbell. The other was Dwayne Mandrusiak.

If there was ever going to be plastic grass in Commonwealth Stadium it was generally believed it would be over Campbell's dead body. But there he was, the former coach, general manager and CEO, very much alive and walking on the state-of-the-art stuff in the south end zone this past weekend, admitting that his glorious grass finally had to go.

“I always liked it,” said Campbell. “To me it was just a different smell and feel that we had in Edmonton than anybody else had all those years. And it was a pretty big advantage for us at times. But FieldTurf is the way to go.

“I went and walked on it in the end zone. And I agree. This turf has come so far now, it's time. But there was a long time there when I said never, never, never.”

Now that the grass is gone, the Eskimos can tell some stories.

That grass played a big part in the history of the Eskimos. And nobody knew that better than long-time equipment manager Mandrusiak.

“Absolutely, without a doubt, over the years, it's been a huge advantage,”

he said while also conceding that the advantage had been lost with players arriving who have never played on grass before and the new FieldTurf becoming a preferable surface on which to play the game than the carpet covered concrete of its predecessors.

“Normie Fong was Saskatchewan's equipment manager for 30 years and he told me it was always a whole week of hell before a game here. They were always questioning everything and never knew what shoes to use. And it was more of an advantage when the weather got colder and the games got bigger.

“It got into everybody's heads. They thought we watered the field and cut the grass to different lengths to affect the teams we were playing.”

He's not saying that never once happened. But almost never.

“We didn't have to. We used to laugh at teams and the things they thought we did and our players really played into it, too.”

Campbell said the grass brought them better players.

“I felt we were better able to recruit players, especially veteran players, because they felt the grass was easier on their legs,” said Campbell, looking back.

But the biggest thing was just having it while everybody else played the rest of their games on artificial turf.

“Teams used to get themselves psyched out coming here to play on it. Roy Shivers, when he was GM in Saskatchewan made comments which affected his own guys. I never saw his motivation in that,” said Campbell.

“Danny Barrett was the worst. He'd get absolutely apoplectic about it,” said media relations manager Dave Jamieson. “Wally Buono was a close second.”

They weren't completely paranoid.

“We had different shoes for the wide receivers and cornerbacks because the grass played different on the middle of the field than the side of the field,” Campbell admitted.

While the Eskimos didn't practice in the stadium as a team, Campbell says he used to send punter Hank Illisec in by himself, especially on days when the wind swirled, despite the city's Keep Off The Grass rule for everybody right up to game day.

“I thought he was over there one day when he was actually holding out,” Campbell laughed.

The grass won a playoff game 68-7 over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers here in 1996.

“Cal Murphy had people running around town buying different shoes during the game,” remembered Campbell. “I remember Jim Sandusky couldn't be covered that day and the score was way out of proportion to the talent of the two teams. Obviously there was an advantage in our equipment man with the grass and the shoes that day,” he said of Mandrusiak.

“I remember their kickers Bob Cameron and Troy Westwood came out for warm-up wearing broomball shoes and I said to my assistant just loud enough for them to hear 'Dammit. They know what shoes to wear,'” said Mandrusiak.

They didn't, of course.

Mandrusiak cut a two foot by two foot section of the grass before they ripped it out to have framed for his new equipment room to remind him of the days.

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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