Where have you gone Joe Danelo?

IT'S ONLY FITTING, in the wake of the most painful season of foot problems on the Palouse since the cross bar got in the way of Bobby Newman's extra-point attempt against Oregon in 1957 --- and, therefore, a trip to Pasadena --- that the ghosts of Cougar kickers past come haunting our off-season thoughts. (ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 2001)

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:

  • Trotting out for the PAT following the Cougars' last TD in a 27-13 win over Stanford in 1972, holder Chuck Peck tells him that Coach Jim Sweeney --- in a buoyant mood with this imminent victory over the defending Rose Bowl champs --- said it would be OK if they switched positions. Peck would kick and Danelo would hold. "Geoff Reece (the snapper) asked what the heck we're doing. I assured him all was well, that Coach Sweeney was on board with it. Peck makes the kick. But when we get over to the sideline, Sweeney grabs our face masks, pulls our heads together and says he'll kill us if we ever pull a stunt like that again."

  • Playing on the Cougar junior varsity in 1971 --- the year before the NCAA allowed true freshmen to play on the varsity --- Danelo was asked to kick and punt. "I was a horrible punter. In those days, though, if you missed a field goal, the other team took possession wherever the ball died, not at the line of scrimmage. So against Oregon State, Bill Cords (freshman coach) sent in our field goal team every time we needed to punt. I tried to kick 'em long but out of bounds. I think I attempted something like seven or eight 'field goals' that game from 70 or 75 yards. OSU's coach told Cords afterward that I was the worst kicker he'd ever seen."

  • At the L.A. Coliseum in 1973, the Cougs were knotted in a neck-and-neck battle with USC when the late Ron Cheatham, intent on giving old hometown pal Lynn Swann a stick to remember on a punt return, was called for spearing. "Fists were flying. Both benches emptied. It was a brawl in the middle of the Coliseum. Joe Daniels (a Cougar lineman) ran out without his helmet on an ended up with a big shiner under his right eye. In films the next week, Coach Sweeney kept replaying the brawl over and over. He kept saying the lesson to be learned is that you've got to remember to wear your helmet." USC won 46-35.

  • Danelo's final game as a Cougar, the 1974 Apple Cup, was played on the same Joe Albi Stadium turf where Danelo had become Spokane's first soccer-style high school kicker. Leading the Huskies was quarterback Denny Fitzpatrick, Danelo's holder while teammates at G-Prep. The Cougars were 2-8 coming into the game and the seniors, riding a two-game Apple Cup win streak, were confident they would go out on top.

    The game was a nail-biter and it looked like the Cougars were going to pull it out at the end. But then an option pitch in the waning minute went awry and the Cougars' hopes died on the Husky nine yard line. "I remember Fitzpatrick rushed for a ton of yards that game. One run for a TD was something like 76 yards. As he was winding his way down the field I remember thinking that he runs about as fast as I do --- there's no way this can be happening." The Huskies won 24-17.

    THE BOTTOM LINE TO HIS PULLMAN TENURE, says Danelo, was the people. The school, the town, the teammates, the fans and the coach --- especially the coach --- made his Cougar experience so memorable.

    "I loved playing for Jim Sweeney," said Danelo, who still ranks in the WSU single-season top ten for most points score.

    "Of all my years in football, from high school through the NFL, he was the best. He also was a tremendous kicking coach, noticing little things like the movement of your head and hips. Some coaches watch you kick three balls and are very critical. Not Coach Sweeney. He'd watch you kick 10 or 15 balls and then offer technical suggestions. He was very encouraging and fun, lively, to be around."

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