Charlie Callahan watched the hyped-up Heisman Trophy presentation on television a few weeks ago and could hardly help but think back to that day in 1956 when a blond Notre Dame quarterback named Paul Hornung won the same award.
At the time, Callahan was Notre Dame's sports information director, and the Heisman people called to give him the news. Callahan immediately dispatched a student assistant to track down Hornung on campus, and when he finally arrived at Callahan's office, he was asked to sit in the waiting room for a minute.
Meanwhile, Callahan placed a long-distance call to Louisville. Then he summoned Hornung into the office, and handed him the telephone.
"Here, Paul," he said to Hornung, "tell your mother you just won the Heisman Trophy."
Clearly, that had to be among the most low-key Heisman announcements in the history of the award. And clearly, Charles Martin Callahan is among the most low-key publicity men in the history of sports, a man who always got the job done with a minimum of mouth, even if it sometimes appeared he was moving in slow motion.
For the last 15 years, Callahan has worked as a publicity man for the Miami Dolphins. He joined the franchise in its first miserable years, riding along for the Super Bowl championships and now, at age 66, he has decided to retire.
He has served three of the finest coaches of their respective eras--Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian at Notre Dame and, now, Don Shula of the Dolphins. Ask him to pick his favorite and he will demur, preferring instead to say, "They were all wonderful coaches, wonderful men."
Callahan has been a wonderful character, a somewhat eccentric fellow known mostly for his love of Notre Dame, his incredible filing system and his lifetime penchant for calling his friends collect in the middle of the night.
That is what Johnny Lujack, Notre Dame's all-America quarterback in 1946 and 1947, remembers most.
"He'd be out with some friends, they'd have a few beers and usually Charlie would get in an argument over who did what or who was the best this or the best that," Lujack said from his home in Davenport, Iowa. "Well, old Charlie would say, 'By God, I'll call Lujack and he'll tell you.' So Charlie would call, usually 2 or 3 in the morning, always collect, and he'd say kinda sheepishly, 'There's a few people I'd like you to talk to.' Then he'd put 'em on, and nine times out of 10 I'd be talking to complete strangers. Sometimes Charlie would get back on, sometimes he wouldn't.
"But there was one time he did call me up and it wasn't collect. He said his parents were going to celebrate their 50th anniversary, and if I'd send them a telegram, he wouldn't call me for two years. I said 'Charlie, you got a deal.'
"Well, two years to the day of his folks' anniversary, I get a collect call from Charlie. 'Time's up,' he says, and I still get two or three collect calls a year."
Callahan always considered Lujack the greatest quarterback in Notre Dame history. But one night, Callahan called another Irish quarterback, George Ratterman--collect, of course--and told him he had decided that Ratterman was the best.
"What about Lujack?" Ratterman asked Callahan.
"Aah," Callahan harrumphed, "he wouldn't accept the call."
Callahan graduated from Notre Dame in 1938, then returned after World War II to serve as sports information director from 1946 to 1966. In his first four seasons, Notre Dame did not lose a game, tying twice and winning two national championships. According to Roger Valdiserri, the man who replaced Callahan at Notre Dame in 1966, Callahan idolized Leahy.
"I remember a story Charlie told about Leahy after a loss," Valdiserri recalled. "Leahy was sitting on a stool, with his head bowed, and Charlie came into the locker room with our basketball coach. Charlie knelt down so Leahy could hear him and whispered into Leahy's ear that this coach's mother had just died.
"There was no response from Leahy, so Charlie whispered it again. Finally, Leahy looked up and said to him, 'My God, Charlie, at least she doesn't have to watch our football team anymore.' "
Valdiserri also was amazed at Callahan's filing system. When Callahan left for Miami in 1966, Valdiserri cleaned off his desk and discovered in the rubble a press credential from the 1957 Army-Notre Dame game.
Nothing changed much when Callahan joined the Dolphins, moving south for a new challenge, a larger paycheck and a climate that would put an end to those nine bouts with pneumonia he suffered in South Bend.
He lived at the team's Biscayne College practice facility during training camp, and also used several rooms there as his in-season office. Frequently, Callahan wrote telephone numbers on the wall. That worked fine until somebody decided to paint the room one day while Callahan was out of town, doing advance publicity for a game.
The room was always a disaster area. Newspapers, press releases, moldy socks, empty soda cans were strewn about. Typewriters were buried under an avalanche of paper. Yet, Callahan never flinched when a visiting reporter asked to see clippings on a particular player for a bit of background.
Callahan would disappear for a minute, shuffle piles of paper and almost always come up with the material.
"I remember Charlie once taking a message for a player to call a writer," recalled Bob Kearney, another Dolphin publicist. "When the writer got off the phone, Charlie dropped the message on the floor. Another writer was there and bent down to pick it up. Charlie says to him, 'Nah, leave it there, I'll know where it is.'