For a lifelong Syracuse resident and sports fan there were very few experiences that were more enjoyable than a conversation with my great friend Dan Johnson.
Dan passed away Saturday, July 12, 2014, after spending more than 100 days in the hospital.
Dan was the ultimate Orange fan, nobody can claim to be a bigger fan than Dan ?? I??m sorry there??s just no way.
He grew up on Syracuse??s Northside and I absolutely loved his childhood stories of following Syracuse Football in the greatness of No. 44 and when the Orange won the 1959 National Championship.
Ernie Davis had a big impact on Dan??s life; Dan had a 2003 National Basketball Championship ring on his finger, with the inscription of ??ED 44?? on it. Later, Dan would spearhead the campaign to get the Ernie Davis statue on campus on the SU quad.
I have a feeling Dan and Ernie are in each other??s company right now.
One of his greatest pleasures actually came while suffering in the hospital the last few months. The Orange coaches and players he loved came to visit him. Mike Hopkins, Scott Shafer, Clark Lea, several Orange hoops players and softball sensation Sydney O??Hara all paid their respects to their biggest fan.
But one visit stood out.
Syracuse Football quarterback Terrel Hunt came to see Dan in April. The two really connected.
They exchanged tough stories from their mothers fighting and eventually passing on. But for Dan, nothing could possibly top what Terrel would tell him: Hunt knew he had to come to Syracuse because his mother fell in love with the Ernie Davis statue before her passing ?? the same statue that would have never existed without Dan.
In a way, Dan??s untimely passing is poetic. In his final days, he saw one of his dreams come true. The statue of his hero helped create perhaps another hero for Orange fans.
Our rounds of golf were the kind where the dialogue was more fun than the actual playing itself. I thought I knew my Orange history, but my knowledge doubled, at least, because of those days. Dan would give a history lesson to anyone on all things Orange sports. And what??s more, he??s such a great man, you could hardly help but crack a smile when Dan would say, ??you??re still up,?? since his golf prowess dwarfed mine.
It??s funny really, for a few years I only knew him as ??Orangeyes?? his screen name on Syracusefan.com. Dan, religiously, every day, would post as many articles pertaining to all things Syracuse as he could find. Some article were mainstream stories featuring well-known athletes while others talked about that athlete who graduated 10 years ago and had two rushing yards in one game in the Arena League last season. Nothing got past ??Orangeyes??. It made Syracusefan.com a must-visit site for all SU fans and even members of the media.
A couple of years into my career, one of MY stories was posted by Orangeyes. That??s when I knew I made it. A ??thank you?? email to him sparked a friendship that changed my life, and one that I hope enhanced his life half as much as it did mine.
Dan??s footprint on Syracuse is inspiring. From his days at St. John the Evangelist to his career with softball teams and 40-and-over hoops, Dan has friends probably on every street in this community.
Syracuse will never be the same. Not just because Dan is gone but because his lifelong, tireless dedication to all things Orange absolutely changed this town. Central New York, we lost a great man today but his legacy can and will live on with every fan who steps through the turnstiles at the Carrier Dome.
We??ll miss you Dan, and I hope you can provide a gust of wind to allow me my first hole-in-one. As you always said, ??You just have to keep swinging.?? That may be hard for a while, but eventually, all of your friends will do it in your honor.
Syracuse University Athletic Director Daryl Gross sent us this statement on Dan's passing:
??We are all grieving the passing of Dan Johnson. Dan was the most passionate SU athletics fan and cared deeply about the program. His input and passion will never be forgotten. He reached out to us all personally at many games always with a thumbs up attitude and a smile. He was a true friend to all of us in athletics and was our number one fan. I will miss our conversations, email exchanges and embraces at the games. If there is a fan hall of fame, Dan Johnson should be the first inductee.??