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Former CFL player, manager Dunlap passes away

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The Canadian Press
10/19/2010 3:48:59 PM
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He earned Grey Cup titles as both a player and general manager and was the first CFL player to wear a face mask after repeatedly breaking his nose.

But John Gerard (Jake) Dunlap will also be remembered for his infectious sense of humour that often had people rolling in the aisles, and for always making his players feel appreciated.

Dunlap, who played 12 seasons as a defensive lineman in the CFL with Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton, and later served as the Rough Riders general manager, died Sunday following an 11-year battle with prostate cancer. He was 85.

"Jake was a funny, funny man," said Tony Gabriel, the former all-star tight end who caught the game-winning TD pass for Ottawa in the '76 Grey Cup. "I'm kind of a kibitzer myself and am supposed to do a motivational speech for a public U.S.-listed company and I'm going to enjoy utilizing some of the old jokes Jake used to tell.

"I learned from guys like him but never had the delivery so people have to put up with my corny jokes. I certainly got along with the humour and collective things that Jake stood for.

"We've lost a mighty character who was always available to entertain. I can never thank him enough for all the many good things he did."

Dunlap, an Ottawa native, played 12 seasons in the CFL with the Rough Riders, Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He is best remembered for blocking a kick in the 1950 Grey Cup at Varsity Stadium -- dubbed the Mud Bowl because of the terrible field conditions -- that led to the game's lone TD in the Argos' 13-0 victory over Winnipeg.

Nick Volpe, 84, a former teammate and the MVP of the 1950 Grey Cup, said Dunlap was a hard-nosed player on the field but let his sense of humour show off it.

"He was a tough football player that everyone respected because of the hard work he put in," Volpe said. "He was a very talkative guy who could stir up the guys and everyone kind of followed him because he was a good leader in that sense.

"But he was really, really funny and always came out with priceless comments."

Dunlap later became general manager of the Rough Riders in the 1970s and built Grey Cup-winning squads in 1973 and '76. Dunlap was later inducted into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame.

And Gabriel, 61, fondly recollected that during his tenure as GM, Dunlap turned the Riders post-game pizza parties into must-attend events with the simplest of gestures.

"Jake took the role at the pizza parties the day after a game to hand out silver dollars as a treat to individuals who made a special contribution in games on our special teams . . . and it was something the players, it's silly to say, but we looked very forward to that," Gabriel said. "You were given recognition and it was his way . . . it was the idea you did something in the victory.

"That, to me, was reminiscent of Jake. He took care of the little things."

When Gabriel came to Ottawa from Hamilton following the '73 season, he first negotiated with Frank Clair. But when Dunlap took over as GM, Gabriel said Dunlap remained a very fair man.

"I found Jake accommodating," Gabriel said. "Jake played a somewhat constructive humorist role in keeping things like, 'Hey, we want you here.'

"But what I really remember him for is my retirement day in 1982. He went out of his way to get me all these great presents (like Riders' season tickets, an organ and fur coat, to name a few) that I had no business getting but Jake was instrumental in getting."

But there was more than football in Dunlap's life.

He was also a lawyer and practised with his late brother Frank. In 1983, he moved to New York as the province's first agent general to the United States before returning to Ottawa.

Dunlap joined other Rough Riders in 1986 to open the Lone Star Cafe, which is now called Lone Star Texas Grill and is part of a chain in Ontario.

But due to his knack for public speaking and telling jokes, Dunlap was often invited to speak at various functions. Gabriel said Dunlap did so willingly and without asking for anything in return.

Gabriel fondly remembers Dunlap driving from Ottawa to Horseshoe Valley in the dead of winter to speak at a charity function Gabriel was involved with.

"He was just hilarious, he always had a delivery and had the audience in his palm once he got them rolling," Gabriel said. "We raised a lot of funds and Jake never asked for anything and absorbed his own cost in coming out there on a winter evening and volunteered to come out.

"I thought that was outstanding. But that was Jake."

Dunlap was predeceased by his wife, Dena, and is survived by his son John and daughter Joanne.

The funeral will be held Wednesday morning at Saint Patrick's Basilica.

Canadian Football League (Photo: CFL)

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