Wednesday, June 17, marks 25 years since the football world bade farewell to E.J.Whitten in his last lap of the 'G. Ted Whitten jnr reflects on the occasion that was voted the most memorable moment in the MCG's 150 year history.
It is still heart-warming 25 years on when I look at the vision of so many people coming to the MCG to show their respect for Dad at the State of Origin game between Victoria and South Australia.
Not many people know that the lap of the 'G almost didn't happen. The night before, he was so sick and frail that he said he wasn't going to be able to do it. We called the AFL and cancelled.
The next morning he arose determined to go through with it, no matter how sick he felt. We called the AFL to let them know he was good to go and it was back on!
We started getting ready, but he asked for a haircut first. We had to quickly drive him to his barber across town and then back to the western suburbs to get dressed in the Big V tie and blazer.
The car ride to the ground was quiet, nothing was mentioned but we knew this moment would be "Mr Football's" final goodbye to his beloved football family.
The MCG came into view and a shot of adrenaline seemed to course through his ailing body because the subtle outline of his trademark grin appeared across his previously solemn face as we entered the ground.
During the lap it was very emotional. Although Dad's vision was failing, he could hear and sense the outpouring of emotion from the 65,000 men, women and children gathered in the MCG.
He had recently suffered a stroke, he couldn't see clearly, and I had to hold him since he didn't have the strength to sit up on his own. He was asking me where we were positioned on the ground. The crowd noise was deafening so he would lean his head towards me, listening intently using my verbal prompts as his eyes.
I explained we were passing the MCC Members, the coaches box, the Long Room, and then the commentary area where all of his TV and radio mates were. Upon hearing he was in front of the media boxes, his grin reappeared and his spirit lifted to give a big "Stick it Up 'em!" to the cameras and his mates in the media.
The car came to a halt outside the players' race where he embraced his old rival, state of origin sparring partner and good mate Neil "Knuckles" Kerley, who was coaching the South Australian side. Mariah Carey's song Hero came towards its final note as we left the ground and Dad raised his arms in a V for a final time.
I feel so grateful that Dad was able to rise to the occasion as it was an amazing , emotional and memorable day. It gave everyone – family, friends, the football public – the chance to say farewell and let Dad know the love and respect the football world felt for him before he passed away just two months later.
It became a very historic event in AFL/VFL history being voted the most memorable moment in 150 years at the MCG. It also became a significant moment in men's health as it inspired the formation of the E.J. Whitten Foundation later that year which has carried on the legacy of Dad in promoting men's health awareness and raising money for cancer research and treatment.
COVID-19 has been a tough time on many people's health. The E.J. Whitten Foundation website www.ejwhittenfoundation.com.au has some free men's health webinars from sports leaders like Kevin Sheedy, Ray Chamberlain and Paul Roos to support your health and personal and professional development during these tough times. If you or someone you know needs immediate mental health support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for a 24-hour crisis counselling support service.