Many hard core sports fans will probably recognize the name “Curt Gowdy.” Many of us grew up watching and listening to this man as he announced the Super Bowls, College Bowl Games, dialogue for the Olympics competitions for decades, on Wide World of Sports, and most memorably, the life-long voice of the Boston Red Sox. Many also remember Mr. Gowdy because of his famous “American Sportsman” show about hunting and fishing with some of the most famous sports figures and celebrities of all time.
He was a “sportsman’s sportsman.” Among his peers and co-workers through the years, he was known as the “Cowboy Behind the Mic.”
To all of us “hardcore” Steeler fans, Curt Gowdy’s voice will forever be burned into our brains. For it was the “Cowboy Behind the Mic” who called the most famous play in all sports, Franco Harris’ “Immaculate Reception!”
In 2004, I had the ultimate privilege of meeting this man in his home state of Wyoming. He was attending the “Annual Art Auction” at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming. Mr. Gowdy was a large donator to this wonderful museum. What a gracious man he was! To everyone who knew this man, it was a great loss when he passed away in February of 2006. The night before I met Curt, I was introduced to his wonderful daughter, Cheryl. It was then she asked me if I would do her father’s portrait. After his passing, we started the process of acquiring just the right photograph that I was to use as reference. Cheryl put me in contact with the Gowdy photographer, Carrie Bradburn of Capehart Studio, in West Palm Beach, Florida.
Curt’s favorite photograph showed him seated along his favorite trout stream near where he was raised in Wyoming. He was wearing his favorite Stetson, his eagle bolo tie, holding his favorite fly rod and reel and pinned to his collar was a “special” antelope pin. Cheryl said that the antelope was his favorite animal. What you see here is the final result I painted using that great photograph. This original now hangs proudly over the fireplace of Curt’s lovely wife Jerre’s, new home. The “commission” and the new home were proudly dedicated on February 20th, 2007 on the one year anniversary of his passing. The family asked that I appropriately title the piece, “The Cowboy On The River.” He is terribly missed by his family, all those that knew him and all those who just enjoyed this man throughout their lifetimes.
I still keep hearing Cheryl’s words ringing in my head. She told me over and over again, “My Daddy is going to take you places you just can’t imagine.” True to her words, one month after I finished his painting I received a phone call that had a nice lady’s voice on the other end. She ask if this was Denny and asked if I would talk to Mr. Art Rooney, Jr. If you know anything about the Steelers, the five Rooney brothers are the sons of the late, great, Art Rooney Sr., founder and owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a/k/a “The Chief.”
That phone call was coming from Art Rooney, Jr.! When the conversation started, for me, it was like “God” had come calling! This was the man who was personally responsible for drafting and recruiting four “Hall of Famers” in one draft!! The famous Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Jack Lambert and Mike Webster made football history. No one has ever done this, matter of fact, no one has even come close and probably never will again!! Growing up as a Steeler fan, going to school in Pittsburgh, even parking in the old Three Rivers Stadium parking lot to walk to to art school, every Steeler fan like me has to feel some kind of “closeness” to the Steeler organization. To me, it is like you really “know” all these people. It is hard to explain.
I know there are “fans” and there are “Steeler Fans.” Just watch any Steeler away game. There seems at times to be as much “black & gold” as the home team’s colors. This has just not been since the last Super Bowl win, but for as long as I can remember. A lot of it has to do with the downfall of the mighty steel industry in Pittsburgh that died a terrible death years ago and many of the “Steeler Faithful” moved all over the U.S. to find work.
I know that in N.C., Florida and now S.C. where I have lived the last ten years, you can not believe how many displaced Steelers fans there are out there. It is unbelievable! The sports announcers while announcing the Steeler games always say about how “well-traveled” all the Steeler fans are. They keep missing the point… the Steeler fans did NOT all travel there… “they live there!!!” “Once a Steeler fan, always a Steeler fan!!”
As the conversation started with Mr. Rooney, I was astounded with how he DID make me feel like he has known me for years. He started the conversation with my art, but we went into other directions. Stories we both had about “Steeler” tattoos, Joe Paterno, coach at Penn State, relationships with places in Pennsylvania and several other things. He told me that the Rooneys were known for getting off the main subject but would always get back to the main reason for the call, “my art.”
Mr. Rooney told me how he had gone into his friend’s, the late Curt Gowdy’s, photographer’s studio in West Palm Beach, Florida. While there, Curt’s photographer, Carrie Bradburn showed him my portrait of Curt as well as my artwork on my website. He told me that he was very impressed with the detail and photorealism. He said that my artwork strongly reminded him of his old portrait artist, the famous Merv Corning that he had used for over twenty years.
I felt bad when he told me that he had passed way from cancer. He was not able to finish the long job of doing all the “Steeler Greats.” He told me that while looking at my Native American portraits, he said that he felt I had caught them as the “true warriors” that they were. He said, “my players are ‘warriors’ too and I know you can get that in their portraits.” I felt like I was being blown from my chair as I listened to his words!
He told me that he wanted to send me samples of Merv Corning’s work. Well, the envelope arrived a day or two later, true to his word. After looking at the other portraits, (many I had seen before) I feel that I could paint the other Steelers in the same style. Matter of fact, I can see the similarities in our styles, apparently this is what Mr. Rooney saw too.
He told me that the first “warriors” would be former Steeler and long time best friend, All Pro Linebacker, Jack Butler, and the linebackers Andy Russell, Hall of Famers, Jack Ham and Super Bowl MVP, Lynn Swann.
As a “true fan,” I now feel so humbled to be one of the very few life-time Steeler fans who now has a personal friendship with the legendary Art Rooney, Jr. I feel honored that I can now be of service to Mr. Rooney and the Steeler organization. I am not just another fan screaming at the TV screen. You cannot possibly know how many excellent artists, including other Pittsburgh artists, that Mr. Rooney looked at to fill Corning’s shoes. For me to get the call, is totally mind-blowing! Is there a God? I know so and I would bet he is a “Steeler Fan” who likes a couple of “Cowboys” and a “Grand Old Irishman.” Lastly, God Bless you Mr. Gowdy, I know you’re up there!
BTW, Mr. Rooney told me that he really liked the Steeler hat in my photograph on my About page!! He knew that I was not just another fan. but an artist with a “Steeler” passion.