The man who gives the most high-fives and poses for the most pictures at Winnipeg Jets games — and is arguably the most recognizable person inside the MTS Centre — is not on the payroll at True North Sports & Entertainment.
Gabe Langlois, a.k.a. Dancing Gabe, has been a fixture at Winnipeg sporting events — both professional and some amateur — for more than two decades. Any time music is blared over the PA system, it's not difficult to find him somewhere in the arena or stadium exhibiting his latest dance moves, pumping up the crowd and generally serving as the unofficial No. 1 fan of the Winnipeg Jets, Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Winnipeg Goldeyes.
Considering the extent of his fandom, and that he has only missed a small handful of games since the early '90s, the Free Press asked if we could tag along to get a taste of his game-day experience. He was only too happy to oblige.
Free Press multimedia editor Tyler Walsh and I took a cab over to the St. Vital residence where Langlois lives with his mother, Angela. We were welcomed in and Gabe showed us perhaps one of the largest private collection of sports jerseys in Winnipeg. He has 14 — but there's no question which one is his favourite.
He quickly dons his home Winnipeg Jets 2.0 jersey for a quick conversation before that night's game against the Buffalo Sabres.
Langlois, who has a condition his mother considers to be autism, was first spotted dancing at a sporting event by Mike O'Hearn, an executive with the old Winnipeg Jets in the early '90s. He gave him a new Jets jersey, and a legend was born.
"Then, boom, I was on national television, TSN," he remembered.
After our short chat, Langlois, 49, put his access pass around his neck, threw on his jacket and backpack and headed down the street to catch the bus downtown, roughly two hours before the opening faceoff.
As we waited, it was far from a one-sided conversation. I peppered him with further questions about his notoriety, which he answered politely, and he replied with a few of his own.
"What kind of name is Kirbyson?" he asked me.
So, I told him what I knew of my family's roots in the United Kingdom and that seemed to satisfy his curiosity.
The bus ride is surprisingly quick, maybe 15 minutes. We got off a few blocks from the MTS Centre, and as we walked we discussed the Jets' need to pull off a win considering the teams ahead and behind in the standings had games in hand.
Langlois walked in the same door the media types do and True North staff greeted him warmly at Gate 68. He then bought a large popcorn and sat down in an empty seat to watch the pre-game videos and finally, the pre-game warm-up.
Once the puck drops, it's go time. Langlois made his rounds throughout the lower bowl, juking and jiving in every entranceway. When the play resumed, he grabbed his water bottle and runs to the next entrance so he only misses a few seconds of the action.
During the intermissions, Langlois worked the lower-bowl concourse. He posed for pictures with Jets fans, all of whom call him by name, he exchanged high-fives with guys waiting in line for beer. ("Rock on, man!" said one.) and he got more than a few hugs from admirers, big and small.
Jets defenceman Mark Flood first saw Langlois in the stands while playing for the Manitoba Moose.
"When I see Dancing Gabe, he always brings a smile to my face," Flood said.
In fact, every time he sees the clip of Jets co-owner Mark Chipman announcing the Jets name at the amateur draft last June, he thinks of him.
"I remember him leaning over the boards in his retro Jets jersey at the draft party and smacking the boards. He was pretty excited as everybody was in the arena at the MTS Centre," Flood said.
"He's always smiling, always happy, win or lose. As a player, you have to appreciate a fan who comes to support the team unconditionally."