MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

Particularly during Allegany-Fort Hill week, anybody who experienced the great Jim Daum misses him. And you didn’t just know Jim Daum, who died 12 years ago at the age of 59, you experienced him; and you loved him, because he loved you and he loved everybody else whose path he ever crossed.

Actually, in the late 1960s when he was one of the greatest football players in the history of Allegany High School, Daumie didn’t cross too many paths. He cleared them.

“Hi Diddle, Daumie up the middle!” was always heard at an Allegany football game. So, too, was the Allegany band playing the theme from the television show “Dragnet” after a Daum carry.

Daum de Daum-Daum … Daum de Daum-Daum, Daum!

For when Jim Daum carried the football, it was lights out. It was curtains.

“It was unpleasant, that’s what it was,” Mike Calhoun once said when asked what it was like to play against Jim Daum, the punishing fullback for Coach Ed Schwarz’s Campers of 1967-69 vantage.

“He was a great football player,” Calhoun said. “I thought he had great quickness, especially to the hole.

“Was he tough? He was as tough as they come. But as tough as he was, he was such a nice guy off the field. Daumie’s as good as they come.”

During his playing days at Allegany, Jimmy’s physical stature was said to be 5-11, 240 pounds. But in our minds (still), Jim Daum had to be bigger than that. Maybe it was because he ran fullback and wore No. 51, but somebody built that wide, who could move that fast, had to be at least 6-4, 275. Or so we thought.

He could have easily been known as The Daumer because of the power and the force with which he played football and with the way he could fill a room by merely walking into it. But since anybody can remember, he was Daumie, because he was just so kind and gregarious. And he was loved.

For Cumberland kids growing up on both sides of town in the late 1960s, Jim Daum was our Larger than Life.

“There were a lot of great ones,” Toby Eirich told me once, “but growing up, Jim Daum was the brightest star of them all.”

It was as though he were our Babe Ruth because he was so good, and because kids, as a rule, flocked to him, for no other reason than to just touch him — to pat him on the back after a game, to shake his hand, and ask him how he was going to do against Fort Hill.

And then this enormous freight train of a player, who had just completed two hours of punishing would-be tacklers, with mud caked in sweat all over himself, would turn gentle-giant in a matter of seconds. Jim Daum had respect for his elders, genuine fondness for his peers, and such a soft spot in his heart for children. Particularly children who would think enough of him to come up just to say, “Great game.”

The masher had turned to Daumie as he would say, “It’s hard to say, fellas. Big Red’s always tough. We’ll do our best.”

Fort Hill was always “Big Red” to Daumie, who, you can be assured, always did his best, combining for 217 yards rushing against “Big Red” his junior and senior Turkey Day games, and for 2,149 yards in 20 games his junior and senior seasons.

And then, as he would head into the dressing room beneath the concrete stands, or onto the bus to go back over to Allegany, he would distribute the goods — a chin strap, a wrist band, a piece of tape for as long as it lasted, to any kid with an extended palm; and one evening, the greatest treasure of them all landed in mine.

“What in the hell is that?” my father asked in horror as I emptied my pockets of wares acquired from another night of adventure at the stadium.

“It’s Jim Daum’s mouthpiece,” I said, responding in my best Duuh tone.

“Where did you get it!?”

“He gave it to me,” I said, thinking to myself, “What, you think I took it from him?”

“Did you put it in your mouth?”

“Not yet.”

“Put it down. Now. And go wash your hands.”

“Why?”

Neither Daumie nor I would see that mouthpiece again, but that’s been all right all these years later. The memory has endured, and meant much more to me since Jim and I became acquaintances, then friends. And as everybody can attest, you couldn’t have asked for a nicer fellow to be your friend.

The last time I talked to him was at the 2011 Queen City Quad football scrimmage and, as always, he was surrounded by a crowd.

“Big Red looks like they mean business this year,” he said in that scratched voice of his — scratched, likely, because he used it so often.

Then, of course, the last time most of us saw him was at the Homecoming Game that year when he served as an honorary captain for his beloved Allegany on Cumberland’s biggest day of celebration for what Daumie loved doing the most.

“I just liked everything about playing football,” he told me in a 2008 interview. “The competition … I dearly loved competing against Big Red, of course. I liked the physical part of it, the toughness to it.

“Two- and three-a-days in August were pretty rough, but I loved the competition, the camaraderie of your teammates. It’s a close-knit kind of thing. It’s a special thing.”

He helped make it a special thing, because for Cumberland’s real-life “Wonder Years” generation, he was like Babe Ruth, oftentimes, Santa Claus. He was our Larger than Life.

Always upbeat. Always realistic. Always bringing a smile. He never felt sorry for himself. He was tough and strong to the end, loud and excitable, yet always so kind and gentle.

Jim Daum was a man, yet he lived his life young at heart.

He was Daumie — one helluva football player and one kind, wonderful friend.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT