One of the first stories I heard about the Donora smog of 1948 concerned the football game between the Donora Dragons and the Monongahela Wildcats on Saturday October 31. Donora lost the game 27–7, a disheartening loss to be sure. As I heard it, one of Donora’s star players, left end Stanley Sawa, was called off the field by a loudspeaker announcement and told to return home immediately.
According to the story, which also appears in numerous published accounts later, Sawa ran down the hill to his home at 601 5th Street, rushed in, and asked the neighbor who greeted him, “What’s going on? Why did you make me leave the game?”
“It’s your dad,” the neighbor replied. “He’s in there with the doctor. It doesn’t look good.”
The story ends with Stanley being too late, his father having already died. A truly sad tale if it were true. As far as I can tell now, though, having deeply researched the story, it isn’t.
According to a contemporaneous account in the November 1 Daily Republican, most likely written by Allen Kline, Stanley Sawa scored a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, after Monongahela had replaced many of its starters with second-string players.
Nowhere does the account mention any player being pulled from the game, though in a well-known article in Collier’s the following year, author Bill Davidson, who would go on to become one of the most recognized Hollywood writers of the late 1900s, announcements were in fact made. “During the game several spectators collapsed and were carried away,” Davidson wrote, “but the cases were too scattered to attract much attention. The public-address system kept announcing the names of persons who were wanted at home ‘because of an emergency.'”
A search in The Daily Republican and the Pittsburgh Press shows no mention of any Sawa in any smog-related story from 1948 to 1960. Giving more credence to contemporaneous accounts as opposed to those written years later, it seems most probable that Sawa did not get called home after all and that he played the entire game that Saturday, aside from times he might have been pulled out to rest. Of course it is possible, though highly unlikely, that Sawa was indeed called from the field, returned home to find his father dead, and then went back to play the remainder of the game. That theory doesn’t work either. You see, Stanley’s father, Joseph Sawa, had actually died the previous year, succumbing to a heart attack on Oct. 11, 1947.
So, how did that story, that sad story about young Stan Sawa, originate? Who started it, and why? Did another player get called from the field, and if so, who was it? I’m still researching those questions, so if you have information to share, please do contact me.
Stan Sawa, by the way, joined the Air Force after high school and served in Korea. He attended California State Teachers College, now California University of Pennsylvania, and became principal of the Butler Area Junior High School. He died at age 54 on Feb. 6, 1985, after a “long illness.”