Minnesota Vikings equipment manager Dennis Ryan called it a career after nearly 50 years on Tuesday, ending a tenure with the team that started on June 1st, 1979.
His first assignment was to paint blocking sleds at Midway Stadium, the St. Paul Saints’ longtime ballpark, which the Vikes used for a time as a practice facility.
Ryan was born and raised in St. Paul, and started working for the Vikings at age 16, and served as just one of two equipment in managers in Vikings history.
The job of the equipment manager is one of the strong, silent type. The job is especially wide-ranging, and on an NFL sideline, very demanding as well, both physically and logistically.
A stable locker-room presence at all times, Ryan did a thankless job for every player since the later years of the Purple People Eaters.
It is hard to imagine anyone who knows more about the Minnesota Vikings than Dennis Ryan. Not only was Ryan a passionate fan, he had intimate internal access to every win, loss, heartbreak, and miracle.
Beyond the surface level access, he came to know the players better than most in the organization. That was helped on by knowing a few things about getting the right coffee made, according to Steve Hutchinson, who was elected tot he Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020.
“There was a time when guys like Matt Birk, myself and a couple others – Jimmy Kleinsasser, and a couple guys – actually brought our own lunch to work just so we could sit back there and eat it with Dennis,” Hutchinson said to Vikings.com. “Of course, his coffee was legendary. Everybody went to the equipment room to get D-Ryan’s coffee.”
Beyond that coffee though, was a man that cared deeply for his players.
After getting his eye poked, up to the second knuckle, in play against the Atlanta Falcons, Ryan fashioned a custom face shield for the injured Mark Mullaney. Mullaney only missed 3 games, in no small part due to Ryan.
“That’s the kind of guy he was,” Mullaney said for a 2017 Vikings.com feature about the face shield. “He went way out of the realm of his job description or call of duty.”
Ryan also helped Bryan Robison with a face shield, due to Robison being particularly light-sensitive. Robison told vikings.com about Ryan’s character.
“There aren’t many people I respect more than Dennis Ryan,” Robison said. “The fact that he stuck it out that long and was a part of things like that – I mean, really and truly, he was part of greatness. You think about all the Legends that came through that locker room, that went in and went out throughout the years, and Dennis has been a part of all that.”
“Dennis has been through so many changes,” Robison said. “Players come and go; coaches and come and go; it seems like everybody comes and goes through that building except for Dennis Ryan. He was always a guy that stayed around, hung around and was always a part of the Minnesota Vikings. I think at the end of the day, you have to have a high amount of respect for a guy like that who does stick around through thick and thin, through the highs and lows, and he always stayed true to who he was as a person.”
To close out here are a couple of Ryan’s highlights:
Ryan managed 705 straight games for the Vikings, from his 1981 promotion until Nov. 21, 2021, when Covid-19 protocols sidelined Ryan for the 34-31 win over Green Bay. That win was the 500th regular-season win in Vikings history.
Ryan twice won the Whitey Zimmerman award as the NFL’s best equipment manager award, in 2017 and 1996, 21 years apart.
Ryan oversaw the transfer of 7,500 pounds of gear to London in 1983, the first American football game overseas against the Arizona Cardinals. in 2022, he went back to London, this time with over 20,000 pounds of gear.
Ryan directly worked with 9 of the 10 head coaches in Vikings history, from the late, legendary Bud Grant to current head coach Kevin O’Connell.
This story sources most information from Vikings.com, and I advise you to give their farewell write-up a read as well.