Ever had someone tell you you couldn’t do something and that made you more determined to show them differently and succeed?
Enter Dave Brandon – everybody’s favorite former End Zone owner, Signature and PineBeltNews delivery man and all-around good guy, whose standard wardrobe consists of khaki cargo shorts, a Hawaiian print short sleeve shirt or short sleeve fishing shirt (of which he has a running ton) in a multitude of colors – and yes, even USM gold. But he is quite dapper when he dresses up, but usually only for special occasions.
Dave’s probably the only guy living in South Mississippi sporting a Boston Red Sox baseball cap – no Cardinals, no Braves, no Saints, just the guys from Beantown. He does sport a black and gold USM cap on game days. He’s also known as Bro. Dave, a name he picked up in 1955; more on that later.Sitting down to talk with Dave you can expect to hear a lot of “I’ll never forgets,” preceding a story and that’s what makes this two-plus hour sit down with him all the more fun and bizarre, because everything is a story to Dave.Dave had a tough life growing up in Pensacola, Fla. (Ha!) His parents ran a motel on Pensacola Beach, a rough life for a young boy, who may have missed a day or two of school here and there. He knew when the bridge would be up. He was the second child born to Walter David, a Navy man, and Anita Marie, and he readily admits he was a mistake. The day after his sister, Dolores, married, Dave started first grade. There’s 14 years between the two of them. He’s now 72 and she’s 86 and lives in Pensacola with her husband, James Lamar Miller, a retired Navy commander. They recently celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary.
THE ROAD TO USM
Dave admits growing up he wasn’t a bright student. A “C” student, he never thought he would have the opportunity to attend college because of his grades. “C students didn’t do that well in college,” he said. “And I wasn’t an Einstein.” He thinks back to the second week of his senior year in high school. During senior year is when the guidance counselor usually calls in students to see what they plan to do, where they are going or if they’ve made plans post-graduation. So when Dave received a note from the counselor the second week, he wondered what was up. Usually seniors got that call the first of the spring semester. The guidance counselor called him in to ask if he wanted to drop out of Pensacola High and go to a trade school. Unbeknownst to his counselor, he’d already made a road trip to USM with some friends, just to see what the campus was like. He was immediately sold. “But I had no idea how I was going to go,” he laughs. He remembers sitting in the counselor’s office as she asked, “What are your plans after you graduate?” “Well, Ms. Fillingame (he thinks that was her name, it was 1965 after all), I want to go to Southern Mississippi. She rolled her eyes, throwing her head back before saying, ‘What?’ I was in disbelief and couldn’t believe she was doing this.” Long story short, has somebody ever told you you can’t do something? “That was my magic moment,” Dave said. “She told me I couldn’t go to Southern Miss.”
Having taken the ACT once his senior year, Dave scored a meager 9. Back then he said you needed a 12 to gain admission at USM. “Back then you couldn’t go online and find study questions, so I had to do it the best way I could,” he remembers. When he took the ACT the first time he remembers just checking off a, b, c, d. “I didn’t know what the ACT was about. I didn’t think it was important at the time, and didn’t realize you had to have a certain score to get into college, so I didn’t even try. I didn’t make it.” Dave arranged to come to the Hub City campus to take the ACT again. Dr. Aubrey Lucas was registrar. Two of Dave’s high school fraternity brothers made the Friday trip with him. At that time you only had to be 18 to drink and they were every bit of 18. The three hung out at the Townhouse, a college bar at the time, and stayed at the Southernaire Motel, where Planet Fitness is now located on the corner of U.S. 49 and Hardy Street. Dave’s wakeup call came at 10:30 a.m., after a night out on the town. He had to be on campus by 11 for the four-hour test. Meanwhile, the knuckleheads who came with him were still sacked out. “Needless to say, I’ll never forget it as long as I live,” said Dave, explaining Dr. Lucas coming into the room with his white kitchen timer, telling him how much time he had for each section and asking him to come get him when the timer went off. “And I refuse to say anything else,” David said. “But I would go get him when the bell rang.”
When he finished the last question he notified Lucas and went downstairs for a desperately-needed Coke. “After four hours I needed a Coke so bad. They didn’t have Diet Cokes back then,” he said. He walked back upstairs to find Lucas waiting on him with a “Congratulations, Mr. Brandon, you made an 18 on your ACT.” “I’m thinking, OK, I’ve done something now. I made a 9 and now I’ve made an 18. I wasn’t questioning him. As far as I was concerned, he was as high as you could go at Southern. I’ve made the grade, now I just had to get approved.” Back in Pensacola, he started applying himself and really buckling down. Having failed English the second semester of his first senior year, he should have graduated in 1964. “My parents asked if I would go back to school for another year and take it over, because I had expressed an interest in college,” he said. “And then they tricked me by telling me they would send me to any college I wanted to attend. I really hadn’t had much exposure to USM, but I was three hours from Pensacola and it was everything I wanted. It was Mississippi, I was 18, of drinking age, and I could go to class, get out and go to the bar.”
Yes, he’d go back for his second senior year, graduating in 1965. Dave admits it was a shock coming from Pensacola to Mississippi. His senior year was 1964-’65, which he described as a turbulent time. “Kennedy was killed and there was a lot of Civil Rights unrest, and I didn’t go for that. I came over here and saw signs that said, ‘Whites Only,’ in big letters. I just could not understand that. That’s not the way I had been raised.”
At USM, Dave pledged Kappa Alpha fraternity; they had a real good time. The KAs still have get-togethers. “My fraternity brothers that were fraternity brothers 50 years ago are still just as close and we still run around together to this day,” he said. “We all ask each other for help with this or that and that’s a brotherhood that’s been there for 50 years. That’s something you can’t buy.” Dave graduated from USM in the fall of 1969 with a degree in history and a minor in secondary education. He was going to be a history teacher. He proudly wears his university ring, as well as a Masonic ring. In 1966, while still at USM, he signed on with the Navy Reserve. His dad, brother-in-law and uncles were all Navy men and he aimed to continue the tradition. Dave said back then if you were in college and maintained a 2.0 GPA, you automatically went in. “That was another incentive to study,” he said. It was also 1966 and Vietnam loomed large. He admits he wasn’t the Army type.
SEE THE WORLD
Dave will never forget his first day in the Navy. He was in Charleston, S.C., waiting alongside other recruits for what they all were sure would be weekend duty with no going off base. Dave noticed the guy handing out orders wore what looked like a college ring. As he approached him he realized their rings were alike. “He was a fraternity brother from the University of South Carolina,” remembers Dave. “Well, I said a few magic words, he asked where I was from, Gamma Zeta Southern Mississippi, and he asked for my orders. He told me to come back at the same time on Monday. I didn’t do one thing but check in every morning at 8 a.m. until I got my orders to go to Bremerton, Washington.” Dave did precommissioning in San Diego. And wherever he went, so did his 1969 Buick Riviera, which resembled a long bullet. The fraternity brother in South Carolina had told him to take his car with him because everywhere he was transferred, the Navy would have to ship the car. With 10 days to get to California, Dave drove back to USM to have a good time. He eventually flew to San Diego and paid a fraternity brother to drive his car to the West Coast for him with Dave paying to fly him back home. An avid golfer, Dave made the Navy team, which won the 11th Naval District Championship. He saw bits and pieces of the world during his assignment – Acapulco, some place in Chile, where they had to remain at sea because a communist leader had recently been elected, around the tip of South America and up to Rio de Janeiro. From there it was off to Jacksonville (with a brief trek to Tallahassee to see a girl he’d been dating before hitchiking back to board ship), before departing for Newport, Rhode Island.
Having signed a two-year obligation, he joined up December 1969 and got out December 1971, three months early. Dave explained if you were going back to college they gave you a three-month early release. “Anything worked for me,” he said. “I was 21 and ready to get back, have fun. I went back to school, but basically just played.” At this time he thought he wanted to try and teach, and took a job teaching history to 10th- and 11th-graders at Rowan. It was also the first year in Mississippi you couldn’t spank a student. “I got the most disrespect from kids and to this day, they know who they are,” Dave said of the students who are now around 50 or so. “I see them and they say, ‘You’re never going to forget that?’ No, I’ll never forget.” Dave decided teaching was not for him.
HEADING FOR END ZONE
It was about 1974 or ’75 that Nick Kolinksy (of current Nick’s Ice House fame, who passed away in July 2016) opened a place called Moby Nicks. He approached Dave to see if he’d be interested in a job. Pay was $100/week, a tank of gas and lunch everyday across the street at Western Sizzlin. “He might as well have told me he was giving me $10,000 a week,” said Dave. “First of all, a tank of gas would last a while and in 1975 it probably only cost about $10 to fill up. The $100 weekly plus the GI Bill I was already getting made a glamorous offer.” That’s where his interest in the bar business came from. Dave worked for Nick for about two-and-a-half years before going out on his own. He opened The End Zone on Hardy Street in 1975. It was located across from the Kamper Baseball Park, where a tire store is now located. He said the name, The End Zone, just came out of the blue. “It was mainly because it had something to do with football and the university,” he said. Dave decorated his new establishment with all things USM, not putting anything Ole Miss or State up unless it was in the men’s bathroom. He even had Brett Favre’s freshman jersey.
FIRST AND TEN
Dave was there for Favre’s first game at The Rock. He remembers nobody knowing who this kid was with the name they were pronouncing Fav-ray. “We thought Eric Young was going to be the quarterback,” he said. “It was the Tulane game and all of a sudden they took Eric out. The backup quarterback was hurt. The first play of the game Favre threw a pass, and I’m talking frozen rope from one side of the field to the other, which is 50 yards. You could hear the gasp in the stadium. We went on to beat Tulane.” The best USM game he ever remembers seeing is when USM beat Florida State 58-14 and the first game he ever attended was when the Golden Eagles played Southeast Louisiana down there. “It was the first of September 1965,” he said. “I’ve been going ever since.” And some of those games required a little extra effort. On five occasions he chartered a jet to get himself and friends to away games. The first time he chartered, they took it to Auburn. From lift off to Auburn took 29 minutes. n 1989 he moved The End Zone to Fourth Street. He said even though the bar was across the street from the university, it wasn’t a college thing.
Dave gradually turned it into a place where people wanted to come. Being a budding entrepreneur, Dave knew he always had to keep changing, staying ahead of people. He had to have something the other fellows didn’t have. When he went in, there were only two TVs, one in front and one in the pool hall. At the end it had 28 TVs and had a massive satellite dish on the roof. “We were the first to get satellite,” he recalls. “We could get any game. And when they allowed Sunday bar service in the early 1990s, boy was it a hit. We were guaranteed being able to watch the Saints every week, one way or another.” Dave sold the establishment 10 years later to Mike and Gale Walker, who owned the facility on Fourth Street before moving it to Downtown Hattiesburg a couple of years ago. It closed last month. Thanks to The End Zone, Dave has almost 4,000 Facebook friends. “People see The End Zone and ask to be my friend. They tell me about their memories of those days. That’s all I need to see to accept their request.” He tells them and others that he tries to post funny things that will make people laugh a little.
When Dave sold The End Zone he bought a piece of land behind Strick’s and constructed the laundromat on 38th Ave. He sold it in 2009. For his first 20 years, Dave lived in the Oaks District, buying a house in 1978. Having lived on the beach, he wanted to get back to the water, but didn’t want to live on the Gulf Coast. He found a house at Lake Serene, which was a lot bigger than he needed, but he’s lived there for 20 years, but not always alone.
Bobby Zambrano and Dave, both golfers, were friends. Bobby, who was working at Sears, got off early one day and headed to The End Zone. According to Dave, he’d been there about three hours, when the phone rang. Dave remembers answering to hear Sherry, Bobby’s wife, who had passed and saw his car in the parking lot, asking if he was there. “Bobby was my only customer and motioned for me to say no,” said Dave. “From that point on, I never lied to a customer again.” Sherry, who Dave described as 4-foot 8-inches and 90 pounds soaking wet, commenced to dog cuss him. Dave told her he didn’t know what she was talking about, that the car had been there when he arrived at work. By this time, Dave said the back door was flapping and Bobby, wearing a suit, had scaled a 10-foot fence topped with barb wire out back and was gone. Sherry proceeded to come in and thoroughly go through the whole bar looking for Bobby. “That’s how we first met,” remembers Dave. He went on to say that Bobby had heart problems in his family and had had three heart attacks. The family had moved to Hammond, La. “After his third heart attack Sherry called me and I drove down to the hospital. Sherry and her mother were with him, but he asked them to step out while we talked.”
Dave explained Bobby told him the doctor said there would be another heart attack. “He assured me because the way my heart is that the next one I would not have any visitors. “I told him I didn’t want to have that talk,” said an anguished Dave. “He told me he was right with the Lord and was a good Catholic, but the thing he worried about more than anything was Sherry. “He said, ‘If I should go, I want you to promise me that you will come down and mow the yard, do things that she needs done, keep up with the car. I told him I’d do it in a heartbeat.” That was on a Thursday. Two Thursdays later at 4 a.m. Sherry called to say Bobby was gone.
Dave called to check on her around Thanksgiving and told her he was coming down Saturday to have her car checked. “I did that for 12 weeks, every Saturday – paint, mow, whatever she needed done. I’d take a shower, turn around and come back home.” One particular Saturday, Sherry asked Dave if he minded staying, so they could go out to a favorite spot and have beer and pizza. “She’d been cooped up for 12 or more weeks and needed to get out. “She loved beer and football and we always had the greatest fun. We sat there. We laughed, we cried and talked about things. And we couldn’t talk without mentioning the first time we’d met.” It was back to Hammond the next weekend, fixed her broken grill and they barbecued. And basically that’s how they started dating and continued to do so for the next four years. On Dec. 3, he got a call from Sherry saying she needed to talk. She’d had to leave work because she couldn’t complete a task in a timely fashion. Dave went down where she let him know “she was a broken toy. There’s something wrong.” Dave suggested they get married, which she didn’t think was funny. “I didn’t intend it to be,” he said, getting emotional at the memory.
On a whim, the next Saturday, Dec. 13, 2009, they got married on the back deck of Dave’s house overlooking the lake and surrounded by family and close friends. Judge Mike McPhail officiated. The bride and groom wore black and gold USM attire. They honeymooned in Key West, Fla., Dave’s first trip there. During their time together they visited Seattle, San Francisco, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Cozumel. “We really had fun and did a lot of things she couldn’t do because she was raising kids.” Bobby and Sherry had two boys who became Dave’s stepsons. A year and 17 days later, on Dec. 27, 2010, Sherry died. They had learned she had multiple sclerosis. Mike McPhail was there once again, this time to give a eulogy. “She was a big part of my life that I don’t talk about,” he said. “A lot of people tell me I was shortchanged. But I wasn’t. I had a year and 17 days. A lot of people don’t have that. I was basically still on my honeymoon.” Sherry’s mother had died two weeks before Sherry. On the way home from her funeral Dave said they had a “what if” conversation. “She told me, ‘If I go before you, every time you find a penny, that’s a kiss from me.’ I looked up this morning and I have a whole jar full of pennies and its all from my delivery job.” Dave has since been back to Key West nine times. He says it’s his connection with Sherry. Dave hasn’t put up a Christmas tree since Sherry died. This will mark 12 years. He said it was something she always enjoyed and did that one Christmas they were together.
Dave has also had three black Labrador retrievers in his life. One was his neighbor’s dog, who always barked at Dave and Sherry. But when Sherry died, the dog came over, walked into the house, lay down beside Dave’s bed and never went back home. He’s down to one dog now, Cola, given to him by his friend, Lynn McMahan, in February after Sherry’s death. These days he enjoys getting away from the house and taking the dog for rides, stretched out on the leather seats of Dave’s black Cadillac with the windows down and a big stainless bowl of water in the seat by him. “He’s my life,” Dave said.
Many people know Dave as Bro. Dave or his house on the lake as Bro’s Place. He even had a vanity plate for his car, Bro Dave. That tag now hangs on a wall in a favorite nightspot of Dave’s in Key West. In 1955 when Dave was 9 years old, Dave remembers his parents listing to an album of Bro. Dave Gardner, a comedian, professional drummer and singer. Dave bought “Rejoice Dear Hearts,” his first album. Dave and fraternity brother, Dave Winstead, decided they hadn’t done anything in a while, so they decided to take their girlfriends to Las Vegas where they saw Bill Cosby perform. Dave described him as the cleanest and funniest person he’d ever seen. “We laughed and laughed until we could hardly breathe. He never said a curse word, and was just genuinely funny.” At the end of the performance Cosby recognized some people, Slappy White and Bro. Dave Gardner, who were sitting near their table. “I couldn’t believe it. I told him my name was Dave and everybody had called me Bro. Dave since 1955. Back then, you couldn’t have a camera to take pictures and they wanted to charge $100 to take one, so Gardner got a little piece of paper and wrote, “Bro. Dave, Rejoice, Bro. Dave.” Dave still has it stuck on his “Rejoice” album. “That’s how I got my name.”
And that Boston Red Sox ball cap? When he was in the Navy, Dave’s roommate’s dad got them Cubs tickets. They sat right behind first base where Ernie Banks was on first. “We were sitting there and I heard somebody say, ‘Dave Brandon, you ***.’ I turned around and it’s my fraternity brother who lived in Chicago and the only person I knew in Chicago, who was sitting up behind us and had skipped work.” Dave just kind of took up with the Sox, although he’d also been a Braves fan. “I just knew the Rex Sox were going to win and sure enough that worked out well.” He said the hat and Facebook gave him exposure. “People don’t see a lot of Boston hats around Hattiesburg, so they put two and two together.” How does Dave want to be remembered down the delivery road? “I just want them to remember me as the person if they needed a friend or help, they could count on me,” Dave said. “But it didn’t come from me, it came from my mother. If you knew her...”
Dave remembers taking people, many times girls, home with him all through college. His mother did needlework and as they left headed back to USM, his mother would have two pillowcases for them she had used her handiwork to monogram. “My mother was a giver,” Dave remembers. “I can’t tell you how much stuff she gave away.” As for memories, Dave wouldn’t take anything for his college days at USM. “You know one thing about college, I basically wasn’t pegged to go, so I was out to prove I could. That gets a lot of people through life, and ‘I’ll show you, don’t tell me I can’t.’” He did. It was Dave’s golden magical moment.