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Dale Hansen's Top 8 WFAA memories — No. 1: Michael Sam

Dale recounts his favorite memories from his nearly 40 years at WFAA.
Credit: WFAA

Welcome to a new series where Dale Hansen recounts his top eight memories from his nearly 40 years of working at WFAA. This story will be updated as each new segment airs.

No. 1 — Michael Sam

I said a couple of weeks ago the SMU investigation changed my professional life.

But it was the Michael Sam commentary that I think, and I certainly hope, has defined my life.

Sam is the All-American defensive end from Missouri who told the world in 2014 that he was gay. I knew then his life was going to change forever, but I never thought mine was.

Sam made that announcement on a Sunday night. We didn't have a reporter working Monday to turn a story, so sports director Sean Hamilton suggested I write an Unplugged commentary about Michael Sam. I really had no idea what I was going to say, but listening to the radio on the way home, I knew exactly what I wanted to say.

That one commentary led to more than 5,000 emails, from every state in the union, and 27 countries. I really didn't know back then how those people saw it. I'm thinking, "How big of an antenna do those people have?"

The Log Cabin Republicans gave me a plaque. Gay Republicans. Gay...Republicans.

I told the group that night, "You guys are like Bigfoot, I've heard about you, just never seen one before."

And I was invited to the Ellen Show, and the lovely Mrs. Hansen got to make the trip too. It was the best Valentine’s Day present I’ll probably ever give her.

I decided a long time ago my life had to be about more than ball scores and highlights. And the courage of Michael Sam made that possible. 

Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Nothing is so common as the wish to be remarkable.” 

I think most of us are like that. We hope to be different even though it offends some people when we are.

But failing has never bothered me. I'm not afraid to fail. Probably because I have failed so many times.

I've never wanted to be or thought I was remarkable. But I have always wanted to make a difference. 

I had a young man come up to me at a client party the station was hosting and he cried as he told me his dad had called him the night before, saying his dad hadn't talked to him in 12 years after he came out, but his dad said, "If that old fat Hansen says it's OK, I guess you and I can figure it out."

And then we both cried together.

I don't write to offend you. I don't write for a check or a plaque. I write for Makenzie, trying to make my granddaughter's world just a little more understanding, maybe a little kinder, and hopefully better.

But what I have written led to a trip to Washington, D.C. last year that will always be the most incredible day of my life. And a night that I will always remember.

I even spoke at a Harvard Club luncheon once. 

A man said later, "Hansen's not always right, but he certainly thinks he is."

I think he meant it as an insult, but it's not. It's simply the truth. Of course I think I'm right. I wouldn't say it if I didn't. Makes no sense to me to be any other way.

But the opportunity this station has given me the last 37 years to write and say the things I do has enabled me to at least try to make a difference. 

Because I decided a long time ago, my life has to be about more than ball scores and highlights, and this station, and you, have given me that life. 

The life I used to only dream about when I was Makenzie's age.

No. 2 — Thank God for Kids

There's not enough time in the day to list all the favorite moments of Thank God for Kids. There are enough memories from that to last me two lifetimes.

Music videos were a big thing in the early ‘80s, and when I heard the Oak Ridge Boys singing that song, I knew there would be another one.     

David Handler and Lee Gonzalez found the pictures. We worked on it until about 3 in the morning one night. I told them to go home and we'd finish in the morning.

When I came back, they had stayed all night and had it done. Back then nothing went on the air that I didn't change or fix in some way, but how could I change it? I didn't. It was perfect. I’ve never changed a single frame and I never will.

A lot of people have said I should update the piece and get some new kids on there. But the Christmas movie “It's a Wonderful Life” is in black and white, stars Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. I don't want to see it in color with Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. It's perfect the way it is.

There are so many good stories. One time I was playing blackjack at a casino in Shreveport when a man walks over, throws his billfold on the table, pops open to a picture of a beautiful young woman and says, “Do you know who that is?”

I promise him I don't.

He says, “She's the little blonde girl at the beginning of Thank God for Kids, and you've cost me a fortune over the years because she moved to Paris and became a model, and every year I have to call her and hold the phone up to the TV so she can hear herself.”

But I think it's the stories I tell at the end of Thank God for Kids that have made it special to so many of us for so long. I've written about too many kids who have died too young:

Toby Wilson's son, who made Ben Hogan smile.

The young girl from Mabank, Courtney Howard, who took chemo for her cancer in the morning, then watched her hair fall out when she played basketball at night.

But probably my favorite story is the one I didn't write.

My mom died in 2003, and I couldn't find the words. I just stared at a blank screen until about 4 in the morning one night. I woke up and wrote the entire piece on a notebook I keep beside my bed.

I didn't write it that year. My mom did.

I've always hated how I read it that night, because I read it like the robot I had to be. I knew if I listened to the words, I couldn't finish. But I quoted a line from a George Jones song that described my mom perfectly:

“She stood in the shadows so that others could shine, she loved a lot in her time.” 

Sports director Sean Hamilton surprised me by playing the song at the ending. I cried as hard as maybe I ever have or ever will, but i will never forget what he did. 

And I will never forget what that Oak Ridge Boys song has meant to me — and hopefully, so many of you as well.

No. 3 — The SMU investigation

My professional life changed in June of 1986. I got a phone call telling me that Southern Methodist University was still paying football players, despite all their previous NCAA probations. 

I have never looked at sports the same way since.

SMU had some great football teams in the 1980s — some of the best teams money could buy. That phone call led us to a former SMU linebacker, David Stanley, who told us he was being paid $750 a month

We then confronted SMU athletic officials about that — a moment that I will always remember, as long as I remember anything.

There was a good argument in the newsroom that night. Some people wanted to run the interview that very night. I didn't think we had nearly enough proof, and I certainly didn't want to just let the public decide, so we didn't run it.

Then investigative reporter and producer John Sparks did some incredible work. We had Stanley take a lie detector test. He passed. We had an FBI handwriting expert in Houston verify the writing on the envelope sent to Stanley.

We even had an independent law firm in Washington, D.C. vet our reporting, which was an incredible nuisance sometimes, but necessary. They checked everything. Until the night of November 12, 1986, the SMU story that changed the lives of so many, including me.

I received the typical death threats. A Dallas law firm threatened to expose me for being the “money man” behind the drug trade in Dallas if I didn't  quit, and a box was delivered to my office with a huge black bird inside with a strangled neck and a note pinned to its chest that said, “Hansen, you're next.”

Sports Illustrated featured our reporting in their magazine, and they had more mistakes in that article than they said we made. They said until that SMU story, I was known as just a wisecracking goofball.

They got that last part right. I was a wisecracking goofball. This might be hard for some of you to remember, but I was your typical cheerleader sportscaster in so many ways — until 1986.

That SMU story changed me. I never looked at sports the same way again, and I think it made me better.

I’ve said this many times: I hated that story, I hated everything about it, I hoped that it wasn't true. But the great work of John Sparks and Mike Capps and so many others proved that it was.

I’ve also said this many times, too: I wish that story didn't have to be told, but I'm incredibly proud of the fact that we were the ones who did.

No. 4 — 'The self-appointed president of the Troy Aikman fan club'

Almost every player you meet will tell you, the best thing about playing their games is the relationships they make along the way.

It’s true for those of us who cover the games too. Now a lot of people don’t think we should, but I consider some of the men I have covered over the years to be very good friends. And there’s no one I have ever liked more than former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman.

I am the self-appointed president of the Troy Aikman fan club, and I make no apologies for that. I met Aikman before the Cowboys drafted him in 1989. His UCLA team played in the Cotton Bowl that year, so the bowl committee’s Jim Brock had Aikman do my radio show. On his way back to the hotel, Aikman told Brock, “That guy’s crazy.” Brock says, “You’ll get used to it.”

When we were at training camp that first year, Aikman was on my live reports from California a week later. The other quarterback they drafted that year, Miami’s Steve Walsh, was supposed to be, but he didn’t show up.

RELATED: Dale's Extra Point: Heroes on the Water event was one of the best nights I've had

I saw Aikman walking down the street and hollered at him to join me. You have to understand, we were on top of a press box, so Aikman climbed up  just a minute or so before we hit the air, and when we did, my first question was, “You’re not gonna make a habit of this are you?”

He says, “A habit of what?”

I  said, “Substituting for Steve Walsh.” The look on his face was priceless.

I said, “You’ll get used to it.”

When the Cowboys played in Tokyo in 1992, Aikman, Dale Hellestrae, Bill Bates and me were at the Hard Rock Cafe. Aikman was complaining about the latest story that Skip Bayless had written because Bayless was always critical of Aikman.

I slammed my beer down, and said “Why do you care? You’re Troy $&$%& Aikman!”

So before every game when I was on the field, I would walk away, turn back and say:

“Hey, remember this. You’re Troy $&$%& Aikman.”

It was about that same time that some friends of mine lost everything in a house fire. We were raising money to help. And Aikman donated his rookie helmet.

I told a friend to buy it for me, I didn’t care what it cost. He did, I  said, “How much?” Oh, it was a lot. But I  still have it, and I always will.

 Aikman used to come to my summer parties until the crowds wouldn’t leave him alone because traveling with Aikman in the ‘90s was like traveling with a rock star. He even traveled back to my hometown in Iowa for a high school graduation.

I was giving the kids a little money back then. They couldn’t believe that Troy Aikman was a friend of mine. So he went back with me. When he walked out, I thought the building was coming down. He said he didn’t want to give a speech and then dazzled everyone in the gym with his 15-minute talk.

There’s not a single kid in that class who has a picture of them getting their diploma, because they all ran off the stage to get a picture with Aikman.

When we went to my parents’ house later, he told my mom she made the best potato salad he had ever eaten. She then told the state-wide paper, The Des Moines Register, what he had said. When I told her, “That’s the best you could come up with?” my own mom says to me, “Oh, you know how you reporters are…I was misquoted.”

I called Aikman’s mom to tell her what an incredible son she had raised, and the very first thing she says to me is, “You know Troy was just being nice about your mom’s potato salad. He knows my potato salad is better.”

I can do Aikman stories until the sun comes up, but the Super Bowl party in Atlanta is my favorite story of all — because we partied until the sun did come up.

There were several of us in Aikman’s suite, and about 3 in the morning we ran out of beer. Aikman called the hotel desk, then turns to me and says that we can’t get any beer because it’s after 2 a.m.

I grabbed the phone, called the front desk and said, “This is Troy Aikman. I’m the quarterback of the 

Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys, and if I don’t get some beer in my suite, I’m gonna buy this hotel tomorrow, and you’re the first person I fire.”

Ten minutes later they wheeled in five cases of beer.

Aikman grabs the phone, calls the front desk and says, “This is Dale Hansen. I’m the top-rated sportscaster in Dallas. I just broadcast the Cowboys winning the Super Bowl, and we’re gonna need some sandwiches and chips in Troy Aikman’s suite. And if I don’t get it, I’m gonna buy this hotel tomorrow, and you’re the first person I fire.”

I’m staring at Aikman. He looks at me and says, “We ain’t getting no food.”

I’ve said this several times, but one of the very best things about the job I have. I've met some of the greatest athletes who have ever played the game, and I’ve met some of the greatest humans who make our world a better place and make life worth living.

But very seldom do those two lines cross. It does with Troy Aikman.

I am the self- appointed president of the Troy Aikman fan club, and I make no apologies for that.

No. 5 — Jerry Jones buys the Dallas Cowboys

I don’t think there’s a bigger sports story that I have covered in my 37 years at Channel 8 than Jerry Jones buying the Dallas Cowboys. 

Buying the Cowboys wasn’t the biggest story — they had been sold before — but they were losing a million dollars a month when Bum Bright owned the team, so he sold the Cowboys to Jones for $140 million, a record back then.

And then Jones fired Cowboys coach Tom Landry. That made it the biggest story.

Landry was the Cowboys' only coach for 29 years. Jones has had eight coaches in the 31 years since. And on that Saturday night in February of ‘89, we probably should have known the sports world as we knew it back then would never be the same again.

That night became known as the Saturday Night Massacre, because people in my business never hesitate to use a Watergate reference when we can. Jones still gets most of the criticism for firing Landry, but I haven’t blamed him for a long time. 

I blame Bum Bright.

Jones had every right to bring in his own coach, and it was Bright who had the obligation to tell Landry he was on his way out. So I blame Bright, but in ‘89, I didn’t.

Jones has changed the Cowboys, and changed the NFL, too. The team he paid $140 million to buy is now valued at $5 billion. That’s “billion,” with a “B.”

Quarterbacks didn’t make $1 million a year in the ‘80s, and they’re offended now when they’re offered only $31 million a year to play.

It has been 24 years since the Cowboys had played in the Super Bowl, and I don’t think it would be that way if Jerry Jones didn’t own the team.

But they wouldn’t have won those three Super Bowls in the early ‘90s if Jerry Jones hadn’t bought the team in 1989, either.

No. 6 — The Barry Switzer interview

In this week's edition of my eight favorite memories in my 37 years at Channel 8, this is not a favorite, but it is certainly a memory. Some of you actually thought it might be as high as number one. The Barry Switzer interview.

Switzer had been hired in early 1994 to replace Jimmy Johnson as the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Cowboys quarterback, Troy Aikman told me that day, "Hansen, you're going to love this guy, because he's crazy."

Well, Aikman was half right about that.

We get to training camp in August of 94, and the day of the interview I'm on the radio with Norm Hitzges. And I told Norm, "I think the Cowboys will win another Super Bowl this year." Norm said, "is there any reason they wouldn't." And I said, "the only reason they wouldn't, is because Switzer is having trouble with his assistant coaches."

Several of them thought they should have been the head coach instead of him, and I was right about that. Everybody knew I was, including Switzer.

Brad Sham came up to me and said "what did you do?" I didn't think I had done anything.

Mickey Spagnola told me later in the day, "be careful, because Switzer is coming after you tonight."

Luck or fate or whatever you want to call it. I had Barry Switzer scheduled to be live on my Sports Special in Austin that night, and sure enough, Mickey Spagnola was right.

The next day, Barry Switzer told Barry Horn in the Dallas Morning News, that "Hansen needs to start taking steroids to get bigger and stronger," and I said to Barry Horn, "why am I not surprised that Switzer thinks steroids are the way to get bigger." The Morning News decided not to run that because apparently they didn't want Barry Switzer to look bad.

That Saturday night we had a preseason game and Brad did a commentary in support of me, calling out Switzer. And Larry Lacewell, a member of the Cowboys staff at that time, said then, "I don't know if we can win a Super Bowl with Barry Switzer as the head coach, but we can win a Super Bowl without Brad Sham and Dale Hansen on the radio."

Well, apparently they can't.

But as we have also found, I've said it many times, it was a choice that Jerry Jones had to make between his head coach or the radio crew.

I think he made the wrong choice.

Barry Switzer's interview is number six.

No. 7 — The Michael Jordan countdown

I would imagine if we are going to do a countdown, and we are, we have to do my favorite countdown of them all. 1984 was Michael Jordan's rookie year, and I counted it down every step of the way.

It was in November of 1984 when Jose Gant, who was the sports editor at the time and now the assistant sports director, called me back into the edit bay. He said, "Hansen, you gotta see this, you're not going to believe it." 

Michael Jordan was doing things with a basketball that I couldn't even imagine. So I asked Jose, "When does Jordan play in Dallas?" 

We looked it up. March 22nd. So we had about five months before we were going to see this young man come to town.

So when I began the sportscast, every time I showed Chicago Bulls highlights, I said: "Michael Jordan plays in Dallas in 132 days...Michael Jordan plays in Dallas in 97 days...Michael Jordan plays in Dallas in 63 days..."

I counted it all the way down until Michael Jordan and the Bulls finally came to Dallas.

WFAA's George Riba told Jordan when he arrived at DFW Airport about the countdown. 

Jordan's reply: "That's very interesting, I never thought I would create this much hype coming into Dallas."

The Bulls actually came to Dallas the day before the game. So as we always do, when great players come to town, there would be the press conference for all of the media. But Jordan wanted to meet the guy who did the countdown. So he came to Channel 8 that night and we did a one-on-one. Michael Jordan and me, on the set, talking about his rookie year and the countdown he had already heard about. 

At the end of the interview, I just wanted to throw something goofy at him, like I usually do. So I asked him about his thoughts on "no pass, no play." It was a big argument in Texas back then. As I started to laugh and end the interview, he said, "Can I answer that?" He gave an unbelievable answer about the importance of education. 

When we finished the interview, a security guard came and told me he would bring my car around because there were like 20 kids in the parking lot. It was a simpler time. I said, "That's fine." And Jordan said, "No, no, no! Let's go out back and talk to the kids." 

So we went out back and he jumped up on the hood of my car, and talked to the kids and signed autographs for about 20 minutes.

The next night Jordan and the Bulls were playing the Mavericks, and Dallas was the better team, but the Bulls won. Jordan scored 20 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. He missed a triple-double by one, but he wasn't Jordan-esque. He didn't have the big play that made everybody jump out of their seat.

So after the game, he told Jan Hubbard in the Dallas Morning News that he was a little uptight about the countdown and he didn't play as well as he could have. Hubbard wrote in the paper the next day:

"Who knew only Dale Hansen could slow down Michael Jordan."

Actually, I couldn't. It was Mavericks guard, Rolando Blackman, that could. 

But as the years went by when Jordan and the Bulls would come to Dallas, I would go over to his hotel and get a quick interview with him, maybe just sit and talk for a while. It was incredible.

Until finally, in March 1998, he was playing his last game with the Bulls in Dallas. I didn't get to see the game, because I was in Florida with the Rangers, but I will always remember Jordan being asked about his memories of playing in Dallas.

"I still remember Dale Hansen's countdown when I first came into the league. So, I've had a lot of memories here," Jordan said.

Every TV station in Dallas just put their cameras down and said, "Yeah, we're not going to use that."

The lovely Mrs. Hansen called me later that night in my hotel room in Florida, and said, "Did you hear what Michael Jordan said?" 

I told her of course I did, it was on Channel 8.

She said, "Dale, I bet you're more excited now than you were on our wedding night."

I couldn't tell her then, but I will now. Of course I was! It was Michael Jordan!

No. 8 — Tom Landry is Superman

It's going to be hard to take 37 years of memories and reduce them down to eight. I'm going to have to save some of those memories for the book I'm never going to write. But, we're going to try. 

We start with where it all began, September 4, 1983, our first Sunday Night Sports Special. It was the first night of what has been a 37-year run on Sports Special on Sunday nights. And it almost didn't happen.

Our great, legendary news director, Marty Haag, didn't think we should do a Sports Special on Sunday night because too many people would think we were copying Channel 5. Scott Murray had the only Sunday night sports show in town back then. 

As I told Marty: "Everybody in this business copies everybody all the time."

Back then, in the early '80s, we had a newscast that did news, weather and sports. Now, 37 years later, we all start with weather, news, more weather, a little news, more weather, then some more weather, and then sports. As long as it's not raining in Weatherford, of course. And if it is, we do no sports at all. 

So Marty finally agreed. But he still wasn't convinced that it would work. So he said, "We'll do this for a couple of months and see how it goes. We'll pay you a hundred dollars a week for a Sunday night show." 

That first night, we had an incredible show. The Cowboys were in D.C. to play a Monday night game with Washington. So we had Verne Lundquist doing a game preview standing in front of the White House. We had all the highlights, all the usual good stuff that we like to do on Sunday night.

Then I ended the show with a story that I believed then and I still believe today. Cowboys coach Tom Landry is Superman.

Alicia Landry sent me the nicest note saying that she loved that story, and "her Tommy" did too. I liked the story, I liked the way it all began.

But the Times-Herald media critic, David Zurawik, had maybe the best line of all. He said, "Channel 8 might have something really special on Sunday nights, if Dale Hansen just stays out of the way."

Apparently I have.

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