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January 26, 2017

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Dave Mona grew up around sports in his south Minneapolis neighborhood. His father, Luther Mona, was a successful baseball and basketball coach at South High School. Dave played on the 1961 Roosevelt basketball team that was barred from the state tourney because two Teddies players participated in out of season basketball. At the University of Minnesota Dave was sports editor of the Minnesota Daily, went on to a brief career covering the Twins for the Minneapolis Tribune and then made his livelihood in local public relations.

Mona satisfied his passion for sports by joining WCCO Radio in 1981 as co-host of the Sunday morning “Sports Huddle” with Sid Hartman. In 2008 he published a book called Beyond the Sports Huddle, sharing stories regarding the show and storytelling about Minnesota teams and personalities.

Mona has never lost his interest in sports. He is still known for his expertise on trading cards and other sports memorabilia. Several years ago his sports and business acumen prompted Gophers athletics director Joel Maturi to ask him to join the search for Minnesota’s next football coach. Maturi and Mona hit the bulls-eye with the hire of Jerry Kill who resurrected the program.

At lunch Sports Headliners asked Mona the following questions regarding sports and his life. Here are his edited answers, sometimes laced with his trademark humor.

How many trading cards do you still have?

Dave Mona

Well, thank God I have been able to dispose of a lot of them. I had 4 million at the peak. I think I am down to about a million and a quarter right now. We are trying to actively dispose of them. We determined that by the fall of 2072 (not a typo) we should be totally out of cards.

What card will you never give up?

The last one to go will probably be the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle—card No. 311. I’ve got the complete ‘52 set (of cards). That’s kind of the card that people would talk about being the signature card of sports card collecting. When I start selling things off and get to the 52’s, that will be the last set I get rid of, and the last card I get rid of will be Mickey Mantle.

Where are the cards stored?

The cards are all in safe storage like safe deposit boxes—all except the ones that I would consider burning or throwing in a flood. When I say I have a million and quarter cards, easily a million of them are marginally worthless. They’re from 1980 to the current time when there was massive over production.

The teams here are known for losing a lot of games year after year. Why do you think that happens?

I think winning is less important here than it is (in other major cities). As I’ve travelled the country, I find people …what they value most—maybe even above family—is the success of their sports teams. I think people (in Minnesota) have more balance in their lives. They like their teams to be competitive, but it’s not the be-all and end-all to be best at anything. Maybe Garrison Keillor has got it right–there is a lot of modesty among us but I am not sure there is the passion here to be on top that there is in other parts of the country.

In order of preference what are your favorite sports?

It’s a seasonal thing. It’s kind of what’s being played. Right now I am a huge basketball fan. Maybe baseball at heart is where my deepest love is. College football—maybe a little less (a fan) of professional football. Because I played basketball—and grew up in a basketball household—less so hockey, but I have become a good hockey fan. Probably if I had to say based on the full year it would be baseball, football, basketball, hockey.

What did you learn about coaching from your dad?

I learned to sit quietly in church with a little square paper in front of me and diagram plays. I learned to be interested in sports and to watch sports in kind of a different way. The way a coach looks at it and analyzes things, and looks for opportunities that can be seized. From a very early time, being the ball boy for Minneapolis South, I felt like I got a little different look at sports than a player only would have gotten.

Did you ever seriously think about pursuing the athletic director job at Minnesota?

No, I never really did. I didn’t think I was particularly qualified to be the AD but it’s never kept me from expressing opinions on it, caring a great deal about the outcome.

You and your wife Linda have led travel tours for WCCO Radio. What’s the most important thing for a travel tour leader to know?

We want to make sure that people are enjoying themselves, so we seek them out with conversations. People probably don’t know this but we actually keep a chart with everybody’s name on it. We make sure that by the end of the tour we’ve had a meal sitting next to those people and gotten to know them to the best of our ability. I think that satisfies what their expectations might be and it makes the trip more interesting for us.

You have done a lot of travelling. What’s still on the bucket list?

I’d love to go on a (African) safari. There are (other) places I’ve never seen—(like) the Taj Mahal. I would love to do that. I’ve never been to Australia-New Zealand. Heard a lot of great things about that. I am not sure I want to spend a week in Tahiti but it looks gorgeous.

Any other places?

I want to go to the Rose Bowl to see the Gophers play. I was on the Minnesota Daily when they last went (in 1962 after also playing in the 1961 game). They had a train, and I think it was $110 to go to Pasadena. I didn’t have $110. Somebody said to me, “Of all people, I can’t believe you’re not going to the Rose Bowl.”

I will never forget my response. I said, “You know they (the Gophers) go almost every year. I can’t afford it right now but the next time they go I will be there.”

Where did you get your sense of humor?

I always had a sense of humor, (with) the ability to look at things and see the humorous play on words, the pun, or what have you. Probably from my love of the language and turning things a little bit differently. Not always appreciated by people along the way, including some teachers, but to me having a sense of humor was always something I was aware of and enjoyed.

What is it going to be like doing the “Sports Huddle” some day without Sid?

I have no idea when or if that would be a possibility. We talked about what will happen if Sid were no longer part of the “Sports Huddle,”and he was 85 at the time. He’s going on 97 right now so I am confident we will be celebrating at least his 100th (birthday) as part of it. The station sees the “Sports Huddle” as a valuable property, as it’s always been sold out in advertising. It’s a good revenue generator for the station. It still has relatively large numbers of listeners so I think the “Sports Huddle” will go on.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

(1) Reader Comment

  1. avatar
    Terry Kent
    January 26, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    nice interview, enjoyed it, thanks!

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