EAGAN, Minn. — Dennis Ryan was well prepared for anything for every step of his 47-year career with the Minnesota Vikings.
He also shirked accolades along the way, akin to the way John Randle shed blocks.
Based on that, the Vikings knew they'd have to surprise Ryan in order to deliver the tribute he earned.
Somehow, someway the team did so Saturday.
Ryan and his wife Laura were invited to attend Saturday's practice, which fell on Legends Weekend.
With scores of former players returning to Minnesota, as well as current Vikings looking on, Head Coach Kevin O'Connell called Ryan up to break down the team's final huddle of the practice week.
View photos of former Vikings Equipment Manager Dennis Ryan being surprised by the reveal of the the equipment room being named after him.
Ryan entered the circle to cheers and enjoyed reconnecting before he was guided toward the locker room at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.
As he walked through the hallway that connects the locker room with the Indoor Practice Facility, a light switch flipped on, revealing his son Ben, and daughters, Maureen and Annie, who were standing in what will now be known as the Dennis Ryan Equipment room.
Metallic letters have been installed above a row of cabinets, and a three-dimensional display that includes pictures of Ryan and his former boss, James "Stubby" Eason, have been installed on the wall.
Two game balls — one personalized to Dennis "For always going above and beyond while putting the team first" and one to Laura "For quarterbacking the Ryan family all those years" — also awaited.
Ryan's knees appeared to buckle ever so slightly — and some will probably say there was a little more moisture in his eyes than normal — as Vikings Executive Vice President of Football Operations Rob Brzezinski explained the reasons for the tribute.
"Dennis thought he was just going to sail off into the sunset, selfless, humble, and we respect that, Brzezinski said. "We told you when you left this building that we had to honor you and what you mean to this organization and what you've done.
"Thank you for sharing him with us and the NFL all those years. I know there was a lot of sacrifice," Brzezinski said, turning to Ryan's family. "I'm sure you would have liked him around the house more. We just want you to understand, this man is a LEGEND. He is a LEGEND!"
Ryan will serve as an Honorary Captain at the coin toss for Sunday's Vikings game against the Saints, and a yearly award presented by the organization (Ryan was the first recipient) will now be known as the Dennis Ryan Vikings Values Award.
"It's not just the dedication, the loyalty, the commitment, the sacrifice that you gave to this organization," Brzezinski said. "It's the person you are and what you've represented to this organization."
Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf said the following in a statement:
"It is such an incredible honor of ours to recognize Dennis Ryan and his family. For almost five decades, Dennis' selfless approach brought immeasurable value to the team and made everyone around him better. No acknowledgment is truly enough to thank Dennis for his commitment to our organization, but we are excited to unveil the Dennis Ryan Equipment Room and honor him at the game on Sunday."
With Vikings Ring of Honor members Steve Jordan and Joey Browner in close proximity, current players like Harrison Smith and Justin Jefferson, who was peering over the shoulder of Robert Griffith, and colleagues looking on, Ryan said, "I didn't sacrifice. I had a wife who sacrificed. She earned this. I really appreciate everybody who is here."
Ryan was working as a 16-year-old grounds crew member at Saint Paul's Midway Stadium when was recruited in 1975 by Eason, the original Vikings Equipment Manager to help load the Vikings locker room and transfer it to Mankato for the team's annual training camp. Following two summers in that role, Ryan was hired as a full-time member of the Vikings equipment staff in 1977. Just four years later in 1981, Ryan became the youngest equipment manager in the NFL at just 21 years old.
Over his 47 years Ryan became a mainstay inside the Vikings, compiling a streak of 705 consecutive games from 1979 to 2021 before being forced to miss a contest due to COVID-19 protocols. He worked with nine of the Vikings 10 head coaches and in each of the team's home stadiums (Metropolitan Stadium, Metrodome, TCF Bank Stadium and U.S. Bank Stadium). Ryan also helped Minnesota's preparations in 1983 for playing in the first preseason game ever hosted in London (Vikings defeated the St. Louis Cardinals).
"It's overwhelming and certainly an honor. I'll cherish it," Ryan told Vikings.com when asked about the tribute. "I don't know how well deserved it is, but I really appreciate being honored by peers and colleagues and all the players that were here, former and present, guys that worked for me in the equipment room and [Mike Parson], who took over for me."
Ryan was a trusted confidant to thousands of Vikings players and coaches and was respected across the NFL as one of the hardest working people in sports. He designed the first eye shield to be worn by a player in an NFL game (1984), extending the career of Mark Mullaney, after the defensive lineman suffered an eye injury in a game.
Ryan also twice received the Whitey Zimmerman Award, which recognizes the NFL's Equipment Manager of the Year (1996 and 2017).
The wave of people congratulating Ryan included O'Connell and General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who both started with the Vikings in 2022 and sincerely appreciated Ryan's depth and breadth of knowledge as they began their current roles for the first time in their careers.
Ryan was asked how many game balls he had assisted with before O'Connell quipped that the number skyrocketed in the coach's first season.
Watching from home last week, Ryan wasn't the least surprised when O'Connell awarded a game ball to every player for the improbable victory at Atlanta.
After the major festivities, rookie receiver Jordan Addison stopped by the equipment room counter to ask if he could see the game ball presented to Ryan.
"You're a great receiver, so I know you won't drop it," Ryan quipped.
The 21-year-old lifted it with the hands that have already caught seven touchdowns and studied every word. The magnitude of 47 years of service resonated with the rookie.
Asked about Addison's reaction in an interview, Ryan pointed toward what he thinks Addison will accomplish.
"I think it's more what he's going to do here than what I did. He's a special player. It was nice to meet him," Ryan said. "It was great to see all the guys, C.J. Ham, Harrison Smith, Danielle Hunter, all those guys. Greg Joseph and Ryan Wright. The coaching staff and my staff. Everybody that was in the building with me, to have them all coming up was very special."
Ryan also sincerely appreciated the recognition for Laura, who did so much for their family while Ryan worked weekends and almost every holiday. The family would host a gathering for Easter each year, but that timing in spring was an exception to others.
"That's very touching to have her honored as she should be. I didn't sacrifice. I hear people say, 'All the sacrifices, 47 years, I had 47 years of a blast," Ryan said. "I enjoyed every minute that I worked here. I miss not being here, but I was away from the family for those number of years, holidays, she took over. They were the ones who sacrificed, so it's nice to see her rewarded."
Ryan has always been one of the first people that Vikings Legends have sought during their returns to Minnesota. Now, he walks among them, even if he doesn't believe he deserves the distinction.
"I think they're saying 'Leg and,' and they mean leg and a heel," Ryan joked. "No, to be lumped in with those guys is an honor, but it's not right. They're the lifeblood. They're the guys who built this organization, the stadium, this complex. It's on their blood and sweat and their hard work that all this has happened. I'm proud to be mentioned amongst them, but I really don't belong."