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Legends: Danbom part of Fighting Irish pipeline

CALUMET — It’s often been reported that the Calumet area sent more copper to the outside world than any other town in this country.

But the north end also had a pipeline of football players going to Notre Dame University.

No less than a half dozen ex-Copper Kings made the trip to South Bend, Ind. The list included Fighting Irish icon George Gipp.

Larry Danbom was among the last CHS grads to accomplish the trick, playing for the Irish between 1933 and 1936.

Calumet High teammate Dominic Vairo also was with Danbom in that period. He said both of them had been inspired by Gipp’s All-American heroics.

“Certainly, George (Gipp) was a role model for anyone from up here,” the late Vairo recalled in a 1995 interview. “We all wanted to follow his footsteps and when the chance opened up to go to Notre Dame. We jumped at it.”

Danbom, like Vairo, was an outstanding athlete in high school. At 6-foot and 195 pounds, he captained both the football and basketball teams and was named to the All-State team as a senior running back.

“He (Danbom) was a tough, hard-running fullback,” Vairo said. “He made the crucial yards when we had to have them.”

Notre Dame had just hired Heartley “Hunk” Anderson as its new coach in 1932.

Anderson and fellow Calumet native O.J. Larson had opened the holes for Gipp while starring in the ND offensive line 15 years earlier.

“He (Anderson) knew all about us,” Vairo said. “It might have helped us make the team.”

Danbom earned a spot on the roster as a sophomore and made a lot of friends when he scored the winning touchdown against Southern California.

It was his only appearance in the game, a 20-13 Irish win in Los Angeles.

He and Vairo were starters as juniors and seniors, the latter a reliable receiver. Danbom gained key yards from his fullback spot.

In the 1936 season, he scored the only touchdown in a 6-6 tie against powerful Army in a game witnessed by President Franklin Roosevelt and 80,000 people at New York’s Yankee Stadium.

He was named to the All-American team his senior season and appeared with the College All-Star team against the NFL champion Green Bay Packers in 1937.

The collegians beat the Packers by a 6-0 score at Soldier Field in Chicago

He served in the U.S. Navy between 1941-45 as an officer. He later was an FBI agent for 20 years.

Inducted into the Calumet Sports Hall of Fame in 2014, Danbom was named to the Upper Peninsula Hall of Fame in 2016.

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