When the Edmonton Elks welcomed back the iconic double E logo during their helmet unveiling this week, it was long-time special teams demon Jed Roberts who made the announcement.
One of the team’s most vocal alumni after 13 seasons in the green and gold, Roberts was incredibly touched by the honour after having voiced his displeasure with the decline of the organization last season.
“I was on social media toward the end of the year saying I’m not going in that stadium until something changes. I did that as a bit of a risk, I didn’t want to but some pretty extraordinary things that happened by that point,” he recalled in an interview with 630 CHED’s Reid Wilkins.
“I don’t think a lot of alumni would be willing to speak up like that, but this is a tradition and a pride that’s unmatched. I’m not exaggerating when I say I get emotional when I talk about that, because that was my identity for 13 years as a player.”
Now hope has returned to the City of Champions, with a renewed respect for tradition and former players like himself. The shift can be credited to one man, new Elks’ president and CEO Victor Cui, an Edmonton native who rose to prominence as the founder of billion dollar MMA company One Championship.
The 50-year-old sports promotion guru joined the team in late January, replacing the fired Chris Presson. Since then, a parade of new initiatives have been rolled out with Cui taking a hands-on role interacting with fans on social media. While he had no prior relationship with the new president, Roberts experienced that strategy first hand earlier than many might expect.
“He reached out to me a couple months before he took the job. He just kind of came right out of left field and sent me a direct message on Twitter. Just asked me a couple questions about what did I think was going on with the team and if I had any insight, what were my issues with what was going on.” Roberts recalled.
“I was pretty honest with him and he was honest with me, we had a pretty interesting dialogue about motivations for the people taking director positions and what the disconnect was between the directors, the administration, the team, and the community.”
The former linebacker had no idea who Cui was and it wasn’t until months later when he heard the announcement that he realized what had happened.
“He was doing some research,” Roberts chuckled. “That just shows how cagey the guy is, and it’s cagey in a good way, cagey in a great way.”
The two didn’t communicate again until Roberts was asked to do the helmet unveil voice-over, but the proud Elks’ alumni has been wildly impressed by the early results of the regime change. Initiatives like partnering with the University of Alberta Golden Bears have been “genius” in his view and the level of fan interaction that Cui brings to the table is at a level that is normally reserved for those on the CFL’s Mount Rushmore.
“I’ve got to be honest with you, the only person I’ve ever seen that has that similar sort of energy, Pinball Clemons comes to mind. Gizmo has the same type of energy,” Roberts said.
“Victor has a way of making you feel like you’re the only person in the room with him. He has that kind of energy that you need to be in a position like that, to be able to make on the spot decisions. He really has his finger on the pulse of how to turn something and there’s really no sacred cows with him.”
After years of organizational negligence and the financial bloodbath of the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s the type of leader that the Elks needed.
“It’s an interesting time to be part of this franchise and I think like Winston Churchill in World War II, he was a right man at the right time,” Roberts continued.
“If you would’ve told me a year ago we would have a guy of Victor’s pedigree running the franchise, I would’ve told you, you were crazy. Just when things were really bad and we had maybe 2,500 people in the stands, you’ve got Victor riding out of the sun just like Gandalf in Lord of the Rings.”
Those are some lofty names to be compared to in history, fiction and football. If Cui achieves a fraction of any of their success, it will be a victory for the organization.