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NFL's Oldest Alum Passes

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The man who was the NFL's oldest living alumnus -- Sam Dana of Kenmore, N.Y. -- has passed at the age of 104.

Born Sam Salemi in 1903, Dana played with Lou Gehrig on the Columbia football team in 1922. He would play a single NFL season -- for the long-defunct New York Yankees in 1928 -- and caught a touchdown pass.

He changed his last name to Dana upon marriage and the world would not have known of his experiences, or that he was even alive, had he not picked up an NFL encyclopedia in 2003.

"I noticed that a book of football listed me as dead," Dana told Jay Bavishi of the Ivy League office the summer before his 100th birthday. "I didn't do anything about it, but my son checked it and went into clearing up that matter. I am still very much alive, living here in Buffalo."

As it turned out, the Sam Salemi that passed away on July 7, 1969, was not this Sam Salemi ... nor was it Sam Dana. Once this was made clear to the NFL Players Association, he was granted a lifetime membership to the Retired Players Association. The membership officially made Dana the oldest living player, taking the title away from 97-year-old George Gibson, who played in 14 games during the 1930 season. The Elias Sports Bureau, the statistics provider for the official NFL encyclopedia, Total Football, also corrected the mistake.

"Football gave him the notoriety," said his son Bob, "but his life was full of other experiences, and I think that if people take that and broaden your interests, life becomes much more enjoyable."

Sam's family has requested that anyone interested in making a donation in his name please contact NFL's Caring for Kids or the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.