It was an outpouring of emotion and endless tributes in a sports city like few have witnessed anywhere in the entire world involving the death of a sports icon.
Except this sporting icon wasn’t an immortal athlete, coach or GM. He was a mere locker room attendant, an individual who never chased fame or even comprehended that that he’d achieved it, much less a level of adoration from the public not unlike that of a sports superstar like Wayne Gretzky, the person who made it all possible.
And Joey Moss accomplished it, I love to point out, despite miserable media relations the way he wielded his vacuum cleaner through the dressing room in post-game dressing room interviews.
If you’d never paid much attention to sports in Edmonton and never heard of Joey Moss, you’d have found what happened in the first 24 hours after the death of the famed member of both the NHL Oilers and the EE football team to have been staggering beyond belief even to those of us who have chronicled the inspiration impact of the character with Down syndrome for decades.
Radio stations dedicated their day Tuesday to honoring the memory of Moss from the start of programming on the morning drive shows well into the afternoon and beyond.
TSN 1260 radio decided not to carry Monday Night Football as scheduled to provide extended coverage of the news and then began booking prominent people from Joey’s history to speak to his life from 6 a.m., throughout most of the rest of the day Tuesday.
Rights holders for both teams, 630 CHED, offered similar coverage down the dial.
“Joey Moss ‘broke the internet’ like I’ve never seen here before. And the airtime provided by local electronic media has been totally unprecedented,” former radio station general manager Marty Forbes, a 50-year media member now president of Radiowise Inc. consulting and marketing told me Tuesday.
“Wayne Gretzky gave Joey an unbelievable opportunity for a special needs guy by getting him the job as dressing room attendant with the Oilers and Joey just took it and ran with it for 37 years,” said nephew Adam Walker.
Co-guardian of Joey with his mom Pattie, Joey’s 70-year-old sister and No. 3 in order of birth of Joey’s 12 brothers and sisters, Walker was blown away by the way it has been in Edmonton since Joey’s death.
“The phenomenal reaction throughout the community with everybody shows you just how special Joey really was,” he said and briefly broke down.
“The radio, the TV, the papers, the No. 1 trending in Canada, it’s just been incredible. I was telling my wife that we thought we knew how many lives Joey impacted but the outpouring of emotion from the community tells us that even we didn’t really have any idea.”
Much of social media has become a sewer these days but on the day Edmonton lost Joey Moss it was wonderful.
From Gretzky to greats of the game and people from throughout society whose lives had been touched by Joey Moss, there was a remarkable revealing of heartfelt feelings. And heartfelt is the right word. So much of it was clearly from the heart. Like EE football equipment man Dwayne Mandrusiak on Twitter:
“The world lost a legend today. I want to thank the Moss family for letting Joey into my life. He taught my family patience, respect, hard work and the unconditional love and I’m going to miss singing LaBamba at the top of our lungs driving home.”
Walker explained the circumstances involved in the death of Moss to me.
“Joey had an onset of dementia a few years back,” said the 37-year-old nephew.
“Over the last year and a half it really accelerated. While Joey never retired from the Oilers it really restricted his working there. He required quite a bit more care. Then in late July he had fallen and broke his hip. He did it when he was dancing! He was dancing at his house,” he said of the pretty much the last time that Joey was really Joey.
“The trauma of that really had an effect of accelerating everything. His body just kind of gave out. He was in the hospital for two months. Then back at home, back in the hospital and … finally he just died of natural causes.”
Joey had lived a long and productive life compared to many with Down syndrome.
“Because of COVID he was limited to just two visitors, my mom and his sister Susie but they were there every day.
Because of the coronavirus there will not be a public funeral.
“Seven of Joey’s cousins had a Zoom call Monday where we took turns toasting and crying and toasting and laughing. We plan on doing that again with the family throughout the week. The family is spread out all over North America and the world. The group of us in Edmonton can get together safely.”
The Moss family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Joey’s name to the Winnifred Stewart Association for whom Moss had become a poster boy.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020