McGrew owes a lot to the game of football

Dan McGrew has been around the game of football, basically, his entire life.

He graduated from Martins Ferry High School in 1955 and played in the OVAC All-Star Game that season. He then went on to Purdue University before being drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1959 with the 232nd pick.

He was then taken by Buffalo the next season and served as the Bills’ starting center in all 14 games that year, earning All-AFL second team honors. He never played another down for Buffalo. Instead, he returned to the Ohio Valley and played for the legendary Wheeling Ironmen.

In 2009, Dan was one of eight to be inducted in the 29th class of the Minor Pro Football Hall of Fame.

After his playing days were over, Dan got into the coaching profession where he served as head coach at places like Chopticon High School in Maryland, St. John Central, Akron Hoban and Weir.

Since his retirement from the Hancock County School System, Dan remained in the coaching business. He served as the jr. high coach at Sherrard Middle School until about six years ago.

When asked what the biggest difference is between the NFL nowadays and when he played, the 77-year-old didn’t waste any time in replying, “Money. That has really changed the game.

“Heck, when I played for Buffalo, we only had one head coach and three assistants. Now teams have entire staffs. There were 36 players on a team back then and we didn’t have the taxi squads.”

Another part of the game that has really evolved over time has been expansion of the playbook, both on offense and defense.

“The game is a lot more scientific now,” he admitted. “You can learn more things with all the computers and stuff.”

However, although Dan said the players are more stronger because of the various weight programs and workouts they go through, one thing has always stayed the same.

“They can talk all they want about hitting hard, but they don’t hit any harder now than we did back then,” he said with a stern look on his face. “You can only hit so hard, and we hit pretty hard back in the day.”

On a personal note, I came to the Ohio Valley in August of 1983. I settled in Weirton and Dan was the first high school football coach I had to interview as a 24-year-old journalist.

I remember our first meeting, which had me nervous as all get out. I stepped onto the natural grass surface at Jimmy Carey Stadium, which was then situated between the downtown Weirton Steel plant and a hillside. As I walked down the field towards the lockerroom, there was this hulking figure lurking outside the door puffing away on a cigarette.

I remember saying, ‘this can’t be the head coach,’ but, lo and behold, it was. I introduced myself and stuck out my hand for the welcoming handshake. Dan’s hand was about twice the size of mine and he literally ended up shaking my entire right arm.

The Red Riders enjoyed a very fine season that year. They went 9-1 and advanced to the W.Va. Class AAA playoffs. They defeated Beckley Woodrow Wilson in the first round of the playoffs, but then fell to eventual champion Morgantown in the semifinals.

“I was fortunate enough to coach some good kids,” Dan allowed. “When you are able to do that, you can be successful.”

When the Ohio All Stars from 1964 are introduced Sunday night during the first quarter of the OVAC Rudy Mumley Game, McGrew will be the first living coach to join the 50-year reunion festivities. Don Ault is also still alive, but missed the game during his year.

“The game of football has been very good to me,” Dan said. “I can’t complain.”

North can be reached at knorth@timesleaderonline.com