It started at Christmas with a message board poster inquiring as to the first Cougar to nail a field goal from 50-yards out.
Why, Joe Danelo, of course.
Then comes a question from a CF.C editor pondering whether new WSU recruit Graham Siderious is the first Cougar kicker since --- you guessed it, Joe Danelo --- to earn a scholarship right out of high school. (For the record, yes, he is.)
And finally, as talk of the Cougars returning to Seattle to play a home game heats up, a casual conversation among Crimson loyalists drifts back to a November day in 1972 at Husky Stadium when the Cougars battled mighty USC.
There were only two WSU highlights that afternoon --- and Danelo, a 5-foot-9 sophomore from Spokane, produced them both: The first was that record-breaking 50-yard field goal, which gave the Cougs a 3-0 lead before the soon-to-be national champions of Troy racked up 44 unanswered. The second was a TD-saving tackle of incomparable USC return man Anthony Davis on the ensuing kickoff.
"I think they're still talking about that play at the Knights of Columbus
over on Boone," quips long-time Cougar watcher Steve Witter, a high school
teammate of Danelo's at Gonzaga Prep.
In a recent CF.C poll asking Crimson faithful who they considered the second-greatest Cougar kicker of the modern era behind Jason Hanson, Danelo secured nearly a quarter of the votes --- a remarkable showing considering that he last teed it up for the Cougars in 1974. And in the ongoing eBay auction of Cougar memorabilia, trading cards of Danelo from his days in the NFL fetch 30 to 50 times their book value.
Danelo himself is disbelieving, but flattered, to learn that his time in Pullman --- nearly 27 years into the rear-view mirror --- is still remembered by fans.
"You're kidding?" Danelo said last week by phone from San Pedro, Calif., where he and his college sweetheart Emily have raised three sons, including 15-year-old Mario who bears a striking resemblance to dad --- he booted a 47-yard field goal this past season to put his team into the California Class 4A semi-finals.
"My time at WSU was pure enjoyment. Those were four of the greatest years of my life. A great university. A great atmosphere. A team that was a real close group," Danelo says.
And the current Cougars are still near to his heart. If the Mighty Cats are playing in Los Angeles, Danelo will be in the stands. He scours the sports pages for any mention of
WSU. And he is quick to tell you that one of San Pedro's finest --- defensive back Alex Teems --- just signed a national letter of intent to play for Mike Price, following in the footsteps of another local standout, Bryant Thomas, who's now a WSU graduate assistant.
Heck, even Joe's mom Yolanda, who never a missed WSU home game in the early 70s, remains a devout Cougar fan, though she admits to being "a little disappointed" with the results of the last three seasons.
After graduating from WSU with a degree in social science, Danelo was drafted by the Dolphins in 1975 but landed with the Packers in the second week of the season when All-Pro Chester Marcol was injured. "My salary was $21,000 a year. Actually, it turned out to be less, because it was pro-rated in to 14 weeks of the regular season and I didn't play the first two weeks," he says with a laugh.
A year later he would begin a seven-year run with the New York Giants that was highlighted by the 1981 season in which he scored 103 points and the Giants advanced to the NFC semi-finals before falling to Joe Montana. He closed out his career with Buffalo in 1983-84.
The life of a gainfully employed NFL kicker in those days wasn't what it is in the new millennium. To help make ends meet, Danelo worked part-time in the off-season as a longshoreman on the docks of San Pedro.
The experience proved to be a career starter for him. Today, Danelo is a foreman on those same docks. It's a job he loves and one, fittingly, where teamwork is key.
Danelo says he gets periodic flashbacks from his days in Crimson and Gray. The tackle of Anthony Davis in '72 and the longest trey of his career, a 55-yarder against Stanford in '74, are particularly sweet. But there are other memorable moments that stand out: