By David Fong
Regional Sports Content Manager
COLUMBUS, Ind. — More than four decades ago, Dave Gallagher — a talented defensive lineman for the Piqua High School football team — had his choice of college powerhouses to choose from.
In the end, he narrowed his list down to three … the University of Michigan, Duke University and Northwestern University.
Duke and Northwestern? Hardly amongst the college football elite.
But even as a high school student and one of the top football players in the state, Gallagher was looking for more than just a chance to play football.
“My final three choices were Northwester, Duke and Michigan,” Gallagher said. “Those were three of the top medical schools in the country and I had always wanted to be a doctor.”
As talented as he was on the football field, Dr. Gallagher always put academics first. Eventually, he settled on a school that would allow him to excel both on the football field and in the classroom. Becoming a Wolverine paid off on both fronts for the 1970 Piqua High School graduate, who went on to become an All-American defensive tackle in college and was a first-round draft pick in the 1974 NFL Draft. While playing in the NFL, he earned his medical degree from the University of Michigan.
“It came down to the fact that Duke and Northwestern were good schools academically and Michigan, obviously, was what it was — and what it still is,” Dr. Gallagher said. “I knew I could have gone to Duke or Northwestern and played. But I knew that even if I went to Michigan and sat the bench, it was a great program. Plus, it’s awfully hard to say not to Bo Schembechler.”
At the Piqua High School football team’s Aug. 29 season opener against Toledo St. John’s, Gallagher will be honored at halftime along with the Indians’ four other former NFL players, Craig Clemons, Matt Finkes, Quinn Pitcock and Brandon Saine.
“It’s a great honor. To have five guys from one school who played in the NFL really says something. I’m looking forward to going back,” Dr. Gallagher said. “I don’t get back to Piqua very often. I’m excited to see the new stadium. I haven’t been there, but I’ve seen pictures — it looks a lot different than Wertz Stadium.”
Long before he became Dr. Gallagher, he may as well have been known as “Doctor Death” on the football field for the Indians.
Gallagher was a force on both sides of the ball for the Indians, capturing All-Miami Valley League honors on both offense and defense for the Indians. He won the schools Battered Helmet Award in 1969.
“Obviously my football career started in large part thanks to (former Piqua coach) Chuck Asher,” Dr. Gallagher said. “He had just come to the school when I was in the sixth grade and he brought a new life and new spirit to the program. Right off the bat, he made the program into a winner. He was the kind of coach that you wanted to play for, that you wanted to please.”
As good as Gallagher was on the football field, however, his scholarship offer from Michigan came after then-assistant coach Gary Moeller had seen Gallagher play in a basketball game for the Indians. During his time at Piqua, Gallagher was captain of the football, basketball and track teams.
“Gary Moeller — who eventually went on to become the head coach at Michigan — was the one who was recruiting our area,” Gallagher said. “I can remember he had come down to watch me play in a game, but I was dinged up that week and couldn’t play. But he came and saw me play basketball — we wound up winning the district that year — and I guess he was impressed with my athletic ability on the basketball court.
“He was also good friends with Chuck Asher and Coach Asher had told him about me and suggested he come to a basketball game. Recruiting back then wasn’t like it is today — it relied a lot more on word of mouth. And if your coach told a college coach you could play, that’s how it worked. I like to say I got a football scholarship by playing basketball.”
Offering Gallagher a football scholarship basically sight unseen turned out to be a prescient decision for the Wolverines. While at Michigan, Gallagher played defensive tackle and helped lead the Wolverines to Big Ten titles or co-championships in 1971, 1972 and 1973. He played in the Rose Bowl in 1972 and was named a team captain as a senior in 1973. Gallagher was named an All-Big Ten selection and All-American as a senior. Gallagher racked up 83 tackles as a senior and 175 total in his final three years.
The University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library describes Gallagher as “One of the finest defensive tackles every to play at Michigan.” In 2005, “Motown Sports Revival” named him one of the 100 greatest players in Michigan history, ranking him No. 65 on the all-time team.
He also continued to excel in the classroom, earning All-Academic Big Ten honors in 1971, 1972 and 1973. He was the Big Ten Medal of Honor winner in 1973. He also was a recipient of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame postgraduate scholarship.
Following his graduation from Michigan in 1974, the Chicago Bears took Gallagher with the 20th pick of the first round — one pick ahead of future NFL Hall of Fame receiver Lynn Swann. Gallagher was drafted ahead of five players who would go on to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame: Swann, tight end Dave Casper, linebacker Jack Lambert, wide receiver John Stallworth and center Mike Webster.
He was reunited with former Piqua teammate Craig Clemons on the Bears team his rookie season. He then played two seasons with the New York Giants and two seasons with the Detroit Lions.
While playing in the NFL, Gallagher attended medical school at the University of Michigan part-time, eventually earning his medical degree. He currently serves an orthopedic surgeon with Southern Indiana Orthopedics. Gallagher and his wife Betty reside in Columbus, Ind. and have three children — Bryn, Patrick and Andrew.
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong