THE LONGEST SNAP: Ryan King retires after eight seasons with EE Football Team

Edmonton product makes his exit on his own terms after having made the difficult decision to step away from the game that, next to family, has been the biggest part of his life for the past 20 years

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Looking around the home locker-room at Commonwealth Stadium, it’s a vastly different place for Ryan King than it was the first time he set foot inside as a member of the Edmonton Football Team.

He was the only one left, in fact.

The year was 2012, and he was 26 at the time, freshly drafted by his hometown team to the Canadian Football League he grew up watching in that very same building.

Two months ago, the departure of defensive tackle Almondo Sewell in free agency officially passed a torch of sorts to the club’s long-snapper of nine years – or eight seasons, depending how COVID-19 is counted – as the longest-serving member of the team.

And that’s exactly how he makes his exit now, on his own terms after having made the difficult choice to step away from the game that, next to family, has been the biggest part of his life for the past 20 years.

It was no snap decision, of course, rather one made with every bit of heavy heart expected from a player who still has all the attributes to continue on. Before placing the call, King had the number cued up on his phone for a full 24 hours until finally making it all official.

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Now, he is tackling full-time employment with a new team at Crystal Glass, where he has worked the last three years whenever he wasn’t in a helmet. After eight seasons as a CFL long-snapper, his last play was to snap up a promotion to senior management within the Edmonton-based company.

“To the locker-room, the charter flights, the road games, the tunnel runs, the training camps,” King said, taking his time reading from a prepared statement through a watery eye or two. “To the nights out with the boys, hometown wins and Grey Cup championship, thank you.

“I grew up watching my hometown CFL team dreaming one day to play in the CFL and all my dreams were very much met.”

And it all happened despite having his professional vantage point flipped, quite literally, upside-down in making a switch to the long-snapping position after being hand-picked by long-time friend and mentor Taylor Inglis to take over the role with Edmonton.

Edmonton long-snapper Ryan King (53) practises on the sidelines against the Montreal Alouettes at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Sept. 12, 2014. Ian Kucerak / Postmedia, file
Edmonton long-snapper Ryan King (53) practises on the sidelines against the Montreal Alouettes at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on Sept. 12, 2014. Ian Kucerak / Postmedia, file Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia, file

“I didn’t start long-snapping until I went pro,” said the former linebacker and Canadian Junior Football League defensive player of the year, who spent four well-decorated years with the Edmonton Widcats, and four more with St. Mary’s University.

Add that time together again to get eight more professional seasons, all 122 games (plus playoffs) of which were preceded by a call from Inglis 20 minutes prior to kickoff. Without fail. Just as a reminder someone always had his back.

Of course, King never had to look too far around the city to find support, which he then reciprocated as much as any player ever involved with the team’s Champions in the Community programs. And a lot more than most.

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“This is my hometown team, I grew up playing football here, I grew up cheering at Commonwealth Stadium just being like, ‘I’m playing in that (one day).’ And to be able to pull it off is incredible. That aided in all my community work, I had to give back to the game.”

In 2018, King was honoured with the Tom Pate Memorial award for outstanding community service during Grey Cup Week in Edmonton.

“I never said no to an appearance,” King recalled. “But the game gave me more than I could ever give back to the game. No question. There’s so much more to the game, that’s what makes it the greatest game in the world.”

More than that, the CFL showed him the world as part of a Grey Cup tour for troops stationed overseas in Kuwait, France and the Ukraine. Closer to home, he was part of a contingent with the Edmonton club during consultations over the eventual name change with Inuit groups in Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk and Norman Wells high in the Canadian Arctic.

Another extracurricular on the job has seen King become involved for the past seven years as not only a team representative with the CFL Players Association but also working on the bargaining committee and in his current role on the executive, which he will continue to hold post-retirement.

Edmonton long-snapper Ryan King hoists the Grey Cup after defeating the Ottawa Redblacks 26-20 in the Grey Cup final in Winnipeg on Nov. 29, 2015. Brian Donogh / Postmedia, file
Edmonton long-snapper Ryan King hoists the Grey Cup after defeating the Ottawa Redblacks 26-20 in the Grey Cup final in Winnipeg on Nov. 29, 2015. Brian Donogh / Postmedia, file Photo by Brian Donogh /Postmedia, file

On the field, the pinnacle, of course, was being part of the 2015 Grey Cup champion squad that won 10 games in a row, culminating in the club’s first championship in 10 years.

“That was a special year. Coach (Chris) Jones, he’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever played for,” said King, calling it the most unique locker-room he’d ever been a part of. “I’ve never seen a team so close. The big moment for me was when we beat Calgary in Edmonton. Western final. Absolutely packed house. That stadium was roaring, hairs were standing up on your skin when you’re playing out there.

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King came up big with a fumble recovery on the way to the 41-35 win over the rival Stampeders.

“It’s the Battle of Alberta, man. I’m an Edmonton kid, that’s serious to me. We pumped them in that game,” said King, whose team went on to defeat the Ottawa Redblacks 26-20 in the final. “I knew it. When we beat Calgary, this is why it felt special. This is why our locker-room’s so close. Going to Winnipeg, the whole week was such a cool experience. It is what you think it is: All eyes are on you. It’s cool. I thought about this since I was a little kid.

“In that moment when we won, I looked over and I saw (general manager) Ed Hervey. Ed Hervey, he scouted me when I played for the Edmonton Wildcats, he was the one that called me out as St. Mary’s, he drafted me, he became the GM and re-signed me on multiple contracts. So, he was the first guy I went and just gave a huge hug to and I said, ‘Ed, we did it.’ That feeling of accomplishment, that hug felt like it was 10 minutes long.”

Edmonton long-snapper Ryan King sips sweet victory from the Grey Cup inside Winnipeg’s IG Field after helping defeat the Ottawa Redblacks 26-20 on Nov. 29, 2015. Supplied photo
Edmonton long-snapper Ryan King sips sweet victory from the Grey Cup inside Winnipeg’s IG Field after helping defeat the Ottawa Redblacks 26-20 on Nov. 29, 2015. Supplied photo Photo by Photo /Supplied

But some of his fondest memories didn’t involve parading a trophy through Sir Winston Churchill Square or getting fitted for a ring.

In 2007, King’s older brother, Andrew, was drafted by Edmonton and brought to training camp.

And in the 2013 draft, the family watched as younger brother, Neil, was picked up to play safety for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

“As a big brother, it’s an emotional moment,” Ryan said. “To grow up playing in a football family, all three of us went out to St. Mary’s, we all wore the same college jersey. We went through all the ranks together and then my older brother went pro, I was like, ‘Hold on a second, this is where this is going.’

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“Once I got drafted, I realized I could do the same thing for my little brother. He had a great career, played in a couple Grey Cups and was a starting Canadian safety for many years, which his abnormal.”

Of course, it didn’t take long to realize that meant Ryan and Neil were now opponents.

“His first game was in Guelph in a thunderstorm and our whole family flew down,” said King, adding they were wearing King jerseys made up of one half Edmonton, one half Hamilton. “First play of the game, I look up and, ‘Wait a second, Neil’s blocking me. What the hell?’ So, I remember the first one, just giving him a good throat chop and we were just jabbing into each other, laughing down the field and just talking s__t to each other the whole game.

“It was probably one of the funnest games I’ve played because I didn’t even care about snapping. I was just going to roll around Cal(vin McCarty) and just smash Neil.”

Ryan, left, and Neil King pose for a photo at Commonwealth Stadium after the Edmonton Football Team reunited the pair during free agency in 2016. Supplied photo
Ryan, left, and Neil King pose for a photo at Commonwealth Stadium after the Edmonton Football Team reunited the pair during free agency in 2016. Supplied photo Photo by Photo /Supplied

Three years later, David King and Sharon McMinn were given twice the reasons to cheer-on the Green and Gold, who reunited both their sons by signing Neil in free agency.

After three years together, Ryan ended up playing one more season after Neil stepped away from the game following his release by Edmonton on Jan. 15, 2019.

“It really is crazy when you sit back and think about it, and I’ve had a lot of time to do that since I stopped playing and you really learn to appreciate more, what you did. When you do it, you’re just doing it,” said Neil, who now runs his own Edmonton-based business, Apex Electrical Services. “it’s really normal, but when you are able to step back and really, big-picture, look back at it, you’re like, ‘Holy, s__t. That was a run.’

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“It really is special and to be able to share that with Ryan. The guy’s a warrior. An absolute warrior, so I think this is a special day. We’ve created a lot of memories all across the country, and we went over to Ukraine and France together. Some of these memories, they’re never going to go away and it’s so cool to be able to have those.

“Not a lot of people get the opportunities and we definitely didn’t take it for granted. We were just hard-nosed, hard-working kids from Edmonton. That’s the reason, I believe, we were able to survive in a very competitive and vicious league. We just had great mentalities and great parents bringing us up.”

Oh, and as for that call that finally came into Edmonton general manager Brock Sunderland, after much procrastination, Ryan was left with one lasting message: “You’re going out a Grey Cup champion, and no one can take that away from you.”

And, of course, he’s always welcome back inside the building.

•••

While it’s far from an exhaustive list, Ryan King would like to thank:

Sherwood Park Northstars, Bev Facey Falcons, Edmonton Wildcats, St. Mary’s Huskies and the Edmonton Football Team … Mom, dad, his brothers and Jen … Ava, Reese, Cameron and Kiara, “As Uncle Ryan, those girls mean the world to me.” … Special-teams coaches Craig Dickenson, A.J. Gass, Corey McDiarmid, Dave Jackson and Terry Eisler. Ed Hervey, Kavis Reed and Eric Tillman, “for taking a chance and drafting a young kid and developing me into the athlete I became.” Coach Jones, Jason Maas, “It was an honour to play for you.” Brock Sunderland. Crystal Glass. The City of Edmonton. All the schools, teachers and charities. Brian Ramsay and all the CFLPA membership for their trust and respect. Craig and Simone at Pivotal Physiotherapy, “For putting me back together.” Allan Watt and all the EE staff, as well as stadium and security staff and members of the media, “It was an honour to get to know you. Thanks for all your work.” And, of course, the entire City of Champions — signs or no signs.

“I want to say thank you to the boys, all my football coaches, teachers, mentors and everyone else who saw my passion for the game and supported me,” King said. “And to Dwayne, for all our memories we shared together. And thanks one last time for saving my life.

“I’ll just leave it at that.”

E-mail: gmoddejonge@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @GerryModdejonge

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