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Lunch With Dave Cohen

The “Voice of the Panthers” David Cohen talks about his love for KISS and his time working with the Panthers. Photos courtesy of David Cohen

It is that time of the week again, ladies and gentlemen, and it seems like pizza may become a mainstay on this series.

My guest is longtime Georgia State broadcaster Dave Cohen. I was also joined by Anfernee Patterson, a member of my sports team at The Signal who was with me in Knoxville for that historic victory

We met up at a Broad Street favorite of mine, Rosa’s Pizza. Like Reuben’s Deli, I can always feel at home when inside Rosa’s. From the decorations to that perfect slice of pepperoni pizza, it is a piece of New York City in Atlanta.

Walter's 10% Discount

Cohen has seen a lot in his broadcasting life. He has witnessed our athletics program explode into the national scene, most recently in Knoxville, Tennessee, where the Panthers shocked the nation and defeated the Volunteers.

Outside of his storied career in broadcasting, Cohen has authored a book, “Matzoh Balls and Baseballs,” a collection of stories on Jewish baseball players, and is a die-hard fan of KISS, a band he has been religiously listening to since his childhood. 

What follows are highlights from our discussion. We began by discussing the Tennessee football game.

 

Dave: It’s funny: a lot of people there had no idea where Georgia State even was. And you win a game like that, so all of a sudden…

Wake Forest University

Espen: We’re on the map.

Dave: Yeah. We talked all week about them opening up on the big stage. Selfishly, I said all week that I wished we were playing Furman week one. We would have had a game under our belts before going up to play Tennessee in that environment. Hopefully, you beat Furman and take confidence with you to Knoxville. Instead, we went up there and won and suddenly it had changed everything.

Anfernee: How did this game compare to last season’s opener against Kennesaw State?

Dave: We don’t need to play Kennesaw. In the world of college football, maybe even with beating Tennessee, it is my opinion that we are still low-hanging fruit. So, until you know you can play Kennesaw and win that game, don’t play them. And they’re not our rivals; Georgia Southern is and always will be. Of course, we sold tickets to that game, but our program needs wins. That’s just my opinion, of course.

Anfernee: And we’re only 10 years old.

Dave: You know, I always say two things: You can’t win the Kentucky Derby riding a colt, and you can’t win the Daytona 500 riding a go-kart. And we’re still a colt and a go-kart. Tennessee has been playing football for over 100 years, but we’ve moved up quick. Two years of FCS [Football Championship Subdivision] and then one year in the Colonial, because that’s where all of our other sports played, and next thing you know, we’re having a press conference at the Georgia Dome to announce we’re going back to the Sun Belt, because you guys should know Georgia State was a Sun Belt school in the mid-’70s, just without football.

Espen: So, I actually wanted to get your opinion on the AAC [American Athletic Conference]. Obviously, UConn [University of Connecticut] just moved out, should Georgia State be looking to step up to a new conference?

Dave: Well, the one challenge we have always had is facilities. So, I was talking to someone over the weekend about a hypothetical situation: If the Braves never moved, where do we play? Because I don’t know if we could have afforded to play in the Mercedes Benz Stadium. If the city gave the Braves money, like they did with the Hawks and Falcons, and the team revamped Turner Field, where are we? We are just now taking this challenge on, but once you have the facilities, then you become more attractive. The one thing [that] Georgia State has always had going for [it] is location. That’s why we were attractive to the Colonial Athletic Association back in the day. Who were the two schools they took in? Georgia State and Northeastern [University]. They wanted to add Atlanta and Boston. So, somewhere down the line — maybe it’s five years, eight years or ten years — if Georgia State has all of its facility challenges taken care of, who knows. 

Dave: I was on a radio show in Knoxville last Wednesday previewing the football game, and one of the guys asks me, “You guys are in Atlanta. Will you guys follow in the footprint of [the University of Central Florida]?” Good question. They are in Orlando, and we are in Atlanta. They have 50,000-plus students, like us, and we used to be in the same league with them back in the day. They started concentrating on football much earlier than we did; that’s why they are so far ahead. I answered him by saying, “Well, I don’t really know if anyone at Georgia State is sitting down and mapping out what the UCF did, but certainly when you look at the two situations, they’re way ahead and now are more of a national-scene football program. What we just did in Knoxville gave us a taste. It is fun to be a mid-major team in a big market, but it can also be a big challenge. In Orlando, all they really have is the Magic. Here, we’ve got Atlanta United, the Atlanta Hawks, the Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Falcons. We’re constantly waving our hands around saying, “Look at me, look at me.” Sunday, when the Falcons are playing, they’ll be focused on the Falcons. When the Braves reach the playoffs, they’ll be focused on the Braves. And when Atlanta United gets back into first place, they’ll be focused on them. Our story will have faded. We have to keep winning games and getting to bowl games, occasionally beating a team like Tennessee.  

Espen: You have been able to witness, in recent years, the two biggest days in Georgia State sports history, those being R.J. [Hunter]’s shot against Baylor [University] and then the football team’s win over Tennessee. How do those events stack up, and which do you think was bigger for the school?  

Dave: R.J.’s was done on a big national stage at the NCAA Tournament. They were both really big, but I would have to rank R.J’s shot a little higher because of the environment and the stage it was on. That was in the NCAA Tournament; the Tennessee win was a regular season game. Funny story, about 500 or so yards behind us [at Neyland Stadium], was the old Stokely Arena. It was the 1983-84 season, my first full season behind the mic. Georgia State men’s basketball was 0-5. We bussed up to Knoxville to play Tennessee and they had no idea who we were; we might as well have been a YMCA team. We go into Stokely Arena and go toe-to-toe with them and win on a jump shot at the buzzer from Tony Graham. That was the first Power Five win in Georgia State basketball history. So, that win and our football team’s recent win both took place 36 years apart in Knoxville. 

Espen: So, I’ve been able to ask all my guests this same question: You have been able to watch the football program develop from its infant stage in 2010 to where it is now. What has that been like? 

Dave: First of all, as a Georgia State alum [who] graduated in ’94, I never thought we’d have football. The administration didn’t see the benefit in football at the time, but you guys have seen this because you are living it now. The two things Georgia State did not have in the world of universities are the two things you must have to move into that next level: one is football, and the other is on-campus student housing to help create that culture. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 10 times: I cannot believe we’re playing in our tenth season. Whether we are winning or losing, I’m just so happy we have it.

Espen: So, I want to talk about your career in broadcasting. How did you get into broadcasting, and when did you know radio was perhaps the career for you?

Dave: So, I had listened to a few basketball games on the radio when I was still a student at Walton High School, where I finished high school after moving down here from Massachusetts. When I knew I wanted to be in the radio business, I decided to go to Georgia State. I didn’t want to go to a small town and then try to get back to a city; I just wanted to be in the city. So, I came to Georgia State and got involved in the radio station. But what piqued my interest about radio was growing up a sports fan in Boston. I still love the [Boston] Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics [and the New England Patriots]. I listened to a lot of radio as a kid. Back then, we didn’t have cell phones or video games. There were only four TV stations, some magazines and newspapers. Apart from radio, that was about it. One of my cousins on my dad’s side still owns a radio station. So, I would listen to him and thought it was really cool to hear him speak on radio. Did I ever think I would be at Georgia State for 37 years? No. But five years turns into 10 and suddenly it’s 20 years. Then, one day, you wake up, and it’s been 25.
Espen: I see you have been to 57 KISS concerts. Where does your love for the band come from?   

Dave: I forget how old I was — maybe 12 or 13 — [but] my mother’s brother calls the house one day. He was at Casablanca Records and says he can send us some records. I didn’t listen to music that much. A week later, a box shows up with a bunch of Casablanca records. So, my sister and I divided up the records, and I ended up with mainly KISS records. I never got to see them until 1979. They did not play at the Boston Garden because of the pyrotechnics and the building’s fire regulations, so the closest they came to our home was Worcester, Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island. Both of those drives would have been 2–3 hours, so my parents couldn’t drive me to see them. I finally got to see them in July of ’79 at Madison Square Garden. I don’t play golf, I don’t play tennis, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink. I really don’t even buy a lot of tickets to go to Atlanta sports games because I already cover enough Georgia State things. But KISS has been a part of my life since I was about 12, so it is my one true vice and one big interest [besides] Georgia State sports.

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