When Dave Gallagher was selected in the first round of the 1974 NFL draft, he wasn’t banking on a long professional football career.
The ultimate goal for Gallagher was to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor.
So during the offseasons in his five-year NFL career, Gallagher put himself through medical school at the University of Michigan, where he had been an All-American defensive tackle. When a knee injury in the final exhibition game of the 1980 season ended his football career, his medical career began.
“Actually, (football) kind of got in the way more than anything,” said Gallagher, a surgeon at Southern Indiana Orthopedics. “I grew up in a doctor’s family, and I knew from an early age I wanted to be a doctor. I went to Michigan because they have a great football program, but they also have a great medical school, and I thought that would be the best of both worlds.
“Then, I postponed my medical career just long enough to play a little football,” he said. “Pro football paid for my med school, so I have no regrets about that. But medicine has always been my goal.”
In his 24 years in Columbus, Gallagher has treated his share of athletes.
“I’ve had some injuries, so I understood what it was like to be on the other side of the table,” Gallagher said.
In certain instances where the Columbus East and Columbus North football teams have a home game on the same Friday night, Gallagher will help out colleague Dr. Cary Guse by covering one of the two schools. But Gallagher will miss tonight’s East-North game because he will be in his hometown of Piqua, Ohio, where he will be honored as one of the school’s five alumni to play in the NFL.
The 20th pick in the first round of the 1974 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears, Gallagher played his rookie season in the Windy City. He then spent two years each with the New York Giants and Detroit Lions.
Shortly after arriving in Columbus, Gallagher became involved with Police Athletic Activities League football. He was a PAAL board member and board president and spent 11 years coaching the fifth- and sixth-grade PAAL program.
“It’s like anything else in life — when something has been good to you, you really like to give back, and that’s what that was all about,” Gallagher said. “It was giving back to football what it had given to me. I just felt that working with the fifth- and sixth-graders was something I needed to do, and I had a great time.”
During Gallagher’s coaching tenure, the PAAL program grew to nearly 400 kids in several age groups. But he liked coaching fifth- and sixth-graders the best.
“I found that’s probably the best age to coach because the kids know enough they can learn,” Gallagher said. “They have some experience, so it’s not like baby-sitting. These kids really want to learn, but they aren’t so set in their ways that the want to be the quarterback or the wide receiver. They’re still at an age where they’re little sponges.
“Coaching is a full-time job,” he said. “You can do it part time at that level, but when you get higher up, more is expected of you in terms of organization. I didn’t want to be an administrator. I wanted to be a coach, so with that group at that level, that was the best of both worlds.”
Gallagher was the Columbus Diesel elementary league travel team’s coach in its first year of existence in 2008.
“Anyone that knows Dave Gallagher knows he has passion about football,” said PAAL board member and former North coach Steve Gobert. “He loves the game. It was fun to watch him in PAAL because, here’s this burly guy, and these fifth- and sixth-graders just flocked to him.
“Kids loved him,” he said. “He would be out there just leading the charge. He challenged the kids. He was kind of tough on the kids, but they loved it. They responded, and he was really positive with them at the same time.”
Foundation For Youth athletics director Blake Trobaugh played for Gallagher in the mid-to-late 1990s.
“I remember him as a great and patient coach,” Trobaugh said. “My teammates and I thought it was the coolest thing ever that our football coach played in the NFL. It takes a special kind of person to take the time out of his busy schedule as a physician to coach youth football.”