BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) - Sam Dana, who was the oldest living former
NFL player and once played football alongside Lou Gehrig at
Columbia, died in his sleep late Monday night. He was 104.
Dana had been living with his son, Bob Dana, in Buffalo before
spending his final two years at McAuley Residence, an assisted
living seniors center where he would regularly watch his beloved
Buffalo Bills on television. He died because of complications from
"We are beyond sad about the passing of our dad," Bob Dana,
told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "But at the same time, you
look back on his life and he enjoyed life."
It was a full one for the running back who broke into the then
fledgling NFL in 1926 with the Hartford Blues. He played one game
with the Blues and then played a full season in 1928 with the New
York Yankees, finishing with three catches for 66 yards and one
The Yankees folded before the next season and Dana moved on to
raise a family and eventually work as a special agent for the IRS
before retiring in 1969.
Dana only recently became known as the NFL's oldest living
player after there was confusion regarding his name.
He played under the name Sam "Smoke" Salemi before changing it
to Dana in 1945. And for many years, NFL historians thought he had
died after another former Brooklyn-born player named Salemi died in
It wasn't until March 2002 when Bob helped correct the error by
sending a letter to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, informing them
that his father was still alive and living in Buffalo.
"I didn't even know I was missing," Sam Dana said with a smile
while visiting the Bills training camp in 2003. "I'm glad they
Dana quickly became a minor celebrity after that. He was invited
to attend ceremonies at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Bills
practices, and he regularly spoke to children about his playing
days, Bob Dana said.
"It gave him opportunities the last four years and enjoyment
that he wouldn't have had," Dana said. "How many people can say
the last four years of their life at 104 were outstanding?"
Pro Football Hall of Fame spokesman Joe Horrigan said he and his
staff are still researching to determine who is now the oldest
living former NFLer.
Dana played college football at Columbia, St. John's and
Canisius into the early 1920s.
It was at Columbia where Dana played alongside Gehrig, a
fullback before he elected to pursue a career in baseball. As a
member of the football Yankees, Dana also once caught a pass from
Harry Stuhldreher, a member of Notre Dame's celebrated "Four
Turns out, Gehrig died owing Dana $1, which Gehrig had borrowed
and then quickly lost playing dice, Bob Dana said.
"Dad often said, `I wished I asked for the buck back and asked
him for an autograph. It might really be worth something," Bob
Dana said, with a big laugh.
Sam Dana won over numerous Bills players during his visit to
training camp. He spent about a half-hour with former quarterback
Drew Bledsoe as the two discussed how the game had changed.
"All of us as players owe a debt of gratitude to the guys that
came before us, played the game and made it what it is," Bledsoe
said. "They played for the love of the game and established
something that we hope to keep continuing on."
Dana noted only one significant difference between the eras.
"I don't say that in my day (the players) were any better,"
Dana had said in 2003. "But of course, nowadays, they do get paid
a lot more than we did."
Dana, who made $100 a game playing for the Yankees, winked and
added, "It's nice to play for the money, too."
"I played the old game. I loved it," Dana said. "But I wasn't
such a big shot like Red Grange and people like that, you know."
Bob Dana recalled being with his father as the two sat in front
of the television watching the Bills beat the Baltimore Ravens,
19-14, on Oct. 21.
"He turned to me, and I'll never forget it, with a sparkle in
his eye, he said, `I love this game. I loved it then and I love it
now. And I wish I could still play,"' Dana said.
Sam Dana is survived by son Bob and daughter Margaret, four
grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. A viewing will take
place Thursday at D. Lawrence Ginnane funeral home in Kenmore,
N.Y., followed by a service on Friday.
The family requests donations be made to the NFL Alumni Caring
for Kids fund or to the Buffalo Public Library.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)