He would have been fired up right now. Ready for another season of Cougar football. Anxious to see how the team would fare under new head coach Mark Dixon.
By now he would have known just about everything you could know about this season’s team. Its strengths, its weaknesses – and he would have had the inside track on what the coaches thought privately about the upcoming season. How far the Cougars could go down the road to a district, region or even state title.
And he would love to talk about it and share his knowledge and opinion with everyone who would listen. Occasionally adding a mild complaint about how hard he had worked getting the preview to the new season ready for the paper. And lamenting the fact he’d have to carry all that radio equipment from place to place during the season. He was getting too old for that he’d say.
But not this season.
For the first time in 47 years, Dan Callahan will not be covering Cougar football this season.
Dan left us on May 20, 2020 after a short illness. He didn’t like going to hospitals and fears over COVID made things worse, and the end result was he waited too long to seek medical help.
The last several years Dan wrote football and a weekly sports column for The Patriot. He told me once just a couple years ago that in the recent few years he had enjoyed what he was doing more than any time in his career.
Shortly after his death I sat down with his older brother, Tony and we reminisced about Dan. We laughed and shed a few tears.
It’s taken this reporter a while to be able to sit down and write about the things Tony and I shared about his little brother. It only seems fitting to include this column within the edition that includes a preview to the Cougars’ upcoming season.
Tony said he and Danny, as he always called him – his real first name – grew up in Caretta, W.Va.
“As kids we always had each other’s back. I’m 14 months older than Danny. I’ll be 75 in October (2020) and Danny would have been 73 in August,” Tony said.
He recalled how Dan was so skinny as a youngster and was a good baseball player, making the local little league All-star team as an outfielder.
“Pretty good defense, but an excellent hitter,” Tony said of Dan.
As he got older, Dan kept up with Major League Baseball and Tony said he could tell you all the statistics about the players and teams.
“He knew what he cared about. In school he was a mediocre student because he wasn’t interested in it. He liked history and he was into all the sports stuff.”
Tony said their dad, Louis, told Dan once that, “One of these days you’re going to grow up and you’re going to have to make a living son,” and all this sports information won’t help you.
“That’s one of the few times Dad was wrong,” Tony said.
I asked Dan a couple of months before his death if he would provide me with a resume´ of sorts. It was my sly attempt to secure from him the details of a 50-year career that I could use to nominate him for a spot in either a local or statewide hall of fame to recognize his work and how much it had meant to the community.
He didn’t want to go into a lot of detail. He said the hallmark of his career was his experience, and not a lot of big jobs or college degrees.
He did offer details on how he got his start in the newspaper business.
“I started at the old News Journal in 1970 at the age of 22,” Dan wrote. “My first assignment in sports was the final four years of old Dublin High.”
Dan had made his way to this area and got a job with Metropolitan Life Insurance.
“I got hired in one day and worked for Met for most of two years. I was doing fine, but while looking for a new customer’s address in the DeVilbiss Funeral Home area of Radford I passed by the News Journal.
“I had worked in odd jobs at the Welch Daily News in the summers of my high school years (the hot metal days) and liked it. That also made me realize that the circulation department would have the address and directions I needed to find that new customer.
“Turned out the paper was hiring. I walked in the front door and was almost immediately offered a job. I told them I had a job, but about two hours later I was in the newspaper business and resigned from Met Life and the rest is history,” Dan recalled.
Tony recalled Dan’s first football assignment for the News Journal.
“I remember Danny called and said, ‘Hey, I’m covering the game for the paper. I’m going to do a write-up.’ He was a nervous wreck. I could tell he was really wired up. I think it was Giles vs. Dublin,” Tony recalled.
“For the News Journal, Dublin was secondary. They were all about the Bobcats. Dan had to write two paragraphs about the game. He was up to 3 a.m. and went through 40 sheets of typing paper.
“I’m not turning it in until I think it’s what I think it should be,” Tony recalled Dan telling him. “He was determined about it.”
That’s how Dan worked the rest of his career. Friday game nights meant covering the game – either from the sidelines or the radio booth in the press box – working for hours after the game, writing his story, checking game stats, looking at photos for use in the paper, writing captions and when the game story was complete, he’d sit and write a column to go with it. Plus, there would be eating, phone calls, “Friday Football Extra,” and football talk with his stats crew.
It was about 1980 when I got the opportunity to help Dan on the sidelines keeping game stats. I was a member of the paper’s press crew, but Dan allowed me to help on Friday nights, and that’s how I got my eventual start in news and sports reporting.
That was a great time. Joel Hicks had just arrived, and the Cougars’ fortunes were about to turn in a big way. It was great just to be around it.
Tony told of how Dan was instrumental in Pulaski County’s hiring of Coach Hicks.
He recalled how Dan later turned down the job of Assistant Sports Editor for the Tallahassee Democrat – the paper for Florida State athletics – because he’d built a life here, loved Pulaski County and didn’t want to leave.
He recalled, too, how Dan was such a favorite on the radio all those years serving as the “Voice of Cougar Football.”
Tony said one of Dan’s favorite on-air comments actually came from their uncle Garland.
“We were at one of the big games and it was late in the game and our running back broke loose down the middle and unless you were a track star you weren’t about to catch him,” Tony said. “Garland jumped up and said, ‘Hold her Newt, she’s heading for the barn.’ And that’s how that saying started. Dan stole it from Garland.”
Tony said that, to Dan, the big game of the week was always on Friday night.
“You think about Virginia Tech, West Virginia or anybody else. Dan didn’t care. The big game was Friday night. The Cougar game. To Dan, they could be holding the national championship game on TV, but he couldn’t care less. He was going to be right there at Kenneth J. Dobson Stadium. That was the BIG game. The Cougar game was all that mattered to him.
“He knew every player on the team. From the star player down to the youngster who wasn’t talented physically and isn’t going to be a key player on the team. ‘He wants to be a Cougar and that’s all that matters,’ Dan would say.
“He called me a few years back and he was upset and I said, ‘Dan, what’s wrong.’ He said, ‘King Harvey just died.’ King was in Pittsburgh working with a program to help needy and disabled children. Dan loved him. ‘What a great Christian kid he was,’ Dan would say.
For those new to Cougar football, King was one of the early “stars” of the team during Hicks first seasons.
Tony had a message for Cougar fans he wanted to share in The Patriot, and I’m sorry it’s taken so long for me to pass this along.
“Pulaski County can know he loved ya’ll. For all the Cougar fans, thank you all for the love you showed my brother. The goodbye you gave him at the funeral was overwhelming. He would be so proud because he loved you all. With all my love thank you. Tony.”
We at The Patriot miss Dan very much, as do many in the community. Often over the past several months there have been moments when we wanted to share some information with him to get his reaction. Or to just talk about the news of the day – be it sports, politics or grandchildren.
It hurts that we can’t still do that.
We trust we’ll see him again, and that when the Cougars take the field Monday evening, he’ll be watching from above.
By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot