May 24, 2012
Argos great Mann remembered
By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency
TORONTO - The name always meant something: Dave Mann.
All you had to do was hear it and, if you’re of a certain age, if you have lived through that wonderful period of this city’s past, you could only smile.
He was one of the Argonauts we cared about back when we really cared about the Argonauts. He wasn’t just a pass receiver or a punter or an athlete wearing Double Blue who was good enough to be an NFL running back, but he, like so many of his generation, were men of the city.
We’d see him in his restaurant, back when he had a piece of the infamous Underground Railroad. We’d hear him on what was then CFRB, when he had his own jazz show. We knew what he looked like, what he wore, what he sounded like. Dave Mann wasn’t just a football player: He was an actor, a musician, a magician, a lover of good food and gridiron, a veteran of the Korean War, and as his daughter, Angela said Wednesday, he was a fighter.
Dave Mann is gone at the age of 79, but our memories remain so fresh, so alive. We grew up hearing about that 102-yard punt that was legend of our childhood. We grew up knowing he was a seventh-round draft pick of the Chicago Cardinals, before they moved to St. Louis and Arizona, and before he joined the Argos in the late 1950s. It was so different a time for football on both sides of the border. In those days, there was no annual trip from the Buffalo Bills into Toronto. There was an actual exhibition that would take place annually between the Argos and an NFL team.
In 1961, that team was the Cardinals, just on their way to St. Louis. And it was an event of enormous proportions. The legendary Sam Etcheverry had just left Montreal to sign with the Cards, who were coached by Pop Ivy, a CFL icon himself.
There isn’t a lot to remember from the Argos’ 36-7 loss to the Cardinals, except it happened to be Nobby Wirkowski’s last game as an Argo. How different were the times: Wirkowski hadn’t even dressed for the game. He was standing on the sidelines in street clothes when the coach, Lou Agase, asked him if he could play in the second half. Wirkowski played the second half at quarterback. He got hurt. It was his last professional game.
But what left an impression for the Argos that day was the 74-yard punt by Mann. The context of then and now seems stark but then special teams weren’t thought about much in the NFL. By today’s standards, Mann’s punt that day would have earned him a Shane Lechler-like contract and a lifetime job in the NFL.
Times were different, simpler, and Mann after leading the Argos in touchdowns and receptions led them into his latter years as a punter. He was like Johnny Bower. Nobody really knew his age and, if they knew it, they didn’t necessarily believe it. He was the punting star before Zenon Andrusyshyn became Hank Ilesic who became Noel Prefontaine. Kicking matters in Canadian football: For all his time in the CFL, and all his time around Toronto, Dave Mann mattered, as an Argo, as a Toronto figure, living on Prince Arthur St., just across from Varsity Stadium.
“He was a lovely man,” said Angela, sitting with her mother Gail Mann, Dave’s ex-wife and mother of his children. “He was genuinely kind-hearted, humble, and he wanted to help people ... I’m biased, but I think he was a phenomenal guy who did the best he could. You couldn’t have asked any more from him.”
The past year and some wasn’t easy. Mann suffered a stroke, which brought on dementia, which began his decline. He had his hip replaced after a fall, was thought to be making progress, but recently there was too much pain, unwillingness to eat, too much difficulty.
“It hasn’t been easy to watch this,” said Angela. “He was my dad. He was an amazing athlete, an incredibly philosophical guy. He overcame so much. He lost his dad early in life. His family didn’t have much. He made sure he took care of our family. That was important to him.”
Dave Mann played 166 games for the Argos, 36 for the Cardinals, 15 years of pro football in all. In life, his name alone always meant something. In death, his memory will live on.