RB - Edmonton 1971-80
He was a journeyman player who gave his all for his team. One of those too-soon forgotten by everyone except those whose lives he touched; those to whom he was closest - his teammates. One of the faceless lunch pail brigade who came to work, did his job - did it very well, in fact - and never complained.
It's doubtful anyone will ever suggest he should be considered one of the best all-time, or for that matter, of any era. He'll never be in the Hall of Fame, and it's highly unlikely he'll ever even wind up on the Eskimos' Wall of Honour.
Yet for all that, Don Warrington probably SHOULD be considered one of the biggest contributors to the success of the Edmonton Eskimos' dynasty of the seventies & early eighties. He was a mainstay of the Esks' offensive scheme, but never shone individually the way players like Brian Kelly, Waddell Smith, Jim Germany, and Tom Wilkinson did.
A ten-year veteran, Warrington came to the Eskimos via a trade with the BC Lions in 1971. A player who never quite got individual accolades he deserved, he shunned the limelight, but put his heart - and body - on the line every time he went out on the field. He was never a "star" player, yet whenever an extra yard or that crucial first down to sustain a game-winning drive was needed, he was there. The one time he came close to winning Grey Cup Outstanding Canadian honours, he got injured. Typical. Yet his attitude was always the same: the team won, so who cares? So typical of the Eskimos of the seventies and eighties: the TEAM came first.
His teammate and best friend, Dan Kepley nicknamed him "Jeep" because he drove a topless Jeep year-round, and in Edmonton in January, that's a hell of an achievement in itself! Whether or not anybody - including him - knew it or not, Don Warrington was, in many ways, a throwback to the old days - a player who just wanted to win, would do whatever it took to do just that, and didn't care what happened after that.
In his book "Inside The Dynasty", Kepley tells this story, which epitomises the makeup of Don Warrington:
"In 1975 Donnie was having a super year - blocking, catching passes, doing it all. Halfway through the season he looked like he could win the Schenley as the league's top Canadian. Then in a game in Ottawa Wilkie threw to him in a crowd. Donnie went for the ball and tore up his knee. He was through for the year. Wilkie felt terrible. But when he tried to tell Donnie how bad he felt - "If I hadn't tried to force the ball to you, you wouldn't have gotten hurt" - Donnie just smiled and said "Forget it".
In the 1978 Grey Cup versus Montreal, Warrington was having perhaps the finest game of his career. Then on an Eskimo fumble, an Alouette player scooped it up and was heading for the end zone, when out of nowhere, Warrington caught him and made the saving tackle, only to tear his shoulder. Angelo Santucci went into the game to replace Warrington - and promptly won the Outstanding Canadian Award. In typical Warrington fashion, he was philosophical about it afterward:
"...if there was one thing I ever wanted out of this game it would have been to win an Outstanding Player award in the Grey Cup. But don't worry. We won, didn't we?"
Sadly, he was killed in a car crash in December, 1980, shortly after the Eskimos won their third of five consecutive Grey Cups. At his funeral, Tom Wilkinson was asked to speak. As he stood up to try to put into words what the team was feeling, he took out his can of Skoal and inserted a huge wad into his mouth.
"Donnie would have wanted me to be myself", he said.
The team devoted the 1981 season, and in particular, winning their fourth consecutive Grey Cup to Warrington. They wore a silver-dollar sized white patch with "EE 21" on it for the entire season. After defeating Ottawa 26-23 in the greatest comeback in Grey Cup history, centre Bob Howes said,
"Donnie would have loved to play in one like this..."
"So many little differences, no bigger than a hair. Aw, I wish Donnie could have been in it."
Head Coach Hugh Campbell intimated it wasn't quite fair because,
"...the team had been playing with 13 men all year.
"I can't credit Donnie with winning it, but I can credit him with the continuation, the high level over the season that got us here. Because he was so much of what being an Eskimo is all about."
More from Kepley:
"It was the Grey Cup we just HAD to win - for Donnie. He was just an incredible individual. He'd do anything, absolutely anything for this ball club. He didn't care if he ever read his name in the paper. I wear the 1981 ring for Jeep. Every morning when I put on that ring, it's my way of saying hi to him before I get on with my business."
Finally, some personal notes. Growing up in Edmonton, I naturally cheered for the Eskimos, and like most people, I had my favourite players: George McGowan, Larry Highbaugh, Dave Cutler, and Don Warrington. What I remember most about him is his unselfishness. His "team-first" attitude was what instilled in me the belief that all players, whatever the sport, SHOULD have: namely, the TEAM comes first.
Every team has a handful of players like Don Warrington. Every team NEEDS players like Don Warrington; the guys in the trenches; the guys who do their job because it needs doing if your team is going to win; the character guys. Today, Rick Walters is that guy on the Eskimos' team; the guy that most reminds me of "Jeep". Ask any General Manager in the league - they'll all say the same thing: they'd love to have a Rick Walters on their team. Typical.
** Stats needed.
1975 1978 1979 1980
1973 1974 1977
"The Edmonton Eskimos: Inside The Dynasty", by Dan Kepley with Jim Taylor
* 1983 Methuen Publications, Agincourt, ON
"The Grey Cup, A History", by Graham Kelly
* 1999 Johnson Gorman Publishers, Red Deer, AB
Edmonton Sun Article, "The Ring's The Thing", by Terry Jones
November 24, 1996, * Sun Publishing Inc.
Canadian Football League Official Records Manuals:
1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980
Edmonton Eskimos Media Guides:
1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980