August 03, 2003
The fat lady sings for Dan Cook

Dan Cook, the San Antonio sportswriter and broadcaster who coined the phrase "The opera ain't over till the fat lady sings", has written his last column after 51 years in the business.

[L]ooking back, it was my great privilege and pleasure to sit in the press boxes for 30 Super Bowls, 22 Kentucky Derby races, 11 Indy 500 runs, three Daytona 500s, several Major League Baseball All-Star Games, perhaps 200 Texas League games, countless college and pro football games, 25 Cotton Bowls, a half-dozen other bowls and at ringside for at least 35 world championship boxing matches.

There was more. So much more.

Perhaps even better than having a press-box seat was shaking hands and visiting one-on-one with many of the greatest legends of our time, from Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, Rocky Marciano and Joe Louis to Ted Williams, Jim Brown, A.J. Foyt, Johnny Rutherford, and Johnny Unitas, with many dozens more in between.

Yeah, I can think of worse ways to spend a lifetime. Enjoy the time off, Dan. You deserve it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 03, 2003 to Other sports | TrackBack

Wow. I'm surpised to know that he's still around. I remember the colorful humor back on KENS-TV between him and weather-caster Jud Ashmore. Jud went a little over the line more than once (OK, more than a dozen times) and finally got his cookies fired. But it seems that Dan was always one of the better sports anchors in San Antonio at the time.

Posted by: David R. Block on August 3, 2003 8:07 PM

Surely when you look into the writings about the Texas legislature or read their congressional records, you’ll find rampant usage of the original expression, decades earlier than 1976. The original expression was, “It ain’t over until the fat Lady sings!”; and “The Opera” was only added in 1976 by a misquoting sportswriter from San Antonio named Dan Cook. Several internet sites report that in 1978, the Washington Post gave the sportswriter credit for the cliché’s origin. If true, I wonder if the Post writer bothered to talk to any reliable source in Texas? Did Dan Cook claim originality? If so, he should be discredited. In legal and legislative circles, the true origin of the expression is a commonly told anecdote.

The expression was first coined by unscrupulous hardball politicians in the early years of the Texas Legislature (or perhaps even earlier, 1936-1945) by the Texas Republic’s Congress. At the end of each legislative session, a sacred tradition was (still might be) to have an opera singer perform (an important aria, but I forget what) immediately after the closing bang of the gavel. Whenever a legislator or lobbyist suffered a defeat during a legislative session, the losing advocate would utter with fierce determination, “It ain’t over until the Fat Lady sings!” He would declare this meaning that he was not giving up and that no legislation was fully defeated until the session was finally adjourned. Everyone knew that a lot more behind the scenes pressure could be brought upon those who previously opposed the seemingly doomed item, permitting the item or to be revitalized and even passed. The pressure could be strong logical persuasion (for the naïve reader), or threats of retracting support and mounting an attack against the favorite legislation of those who help defeat the item, or simply the promises of support of an opponents agenda if the opposition would disappear. Apparently, last minute reversals by underhanded politics were so common that the expression also came to mean, “Keep alert to the fact that your apparent success might be yanked away by last-minute maneuvering. Continue to politic hard to protect your gains.” And it also meant, “Don’t be smug in your apparent win, you just might still lose it all before it’s over.” The Texas legislators continue to use the expression today, just like their forefathers. (Just search the internet.) I personally like Yogi Berra’s rendition of the expression, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”

The internet is rife with the incorrect information on this expression. Perhaps you could begin remedying the errors with a corrective entry.

In the interest of historical accuracy, I freely grant you permission to use my words above or to paraphrase them, perhaps giving credit to “A temporary Texan, now living in Oklahoma City” if credit is necessary. If you research these facts yourself, I don't wish for any credit.

Jim V

Posted by: jim kamp on October 1, 2003 4:57 AM

I too remember Dan Cook and Jud Ashmore volleying back and forth in the early and mid-70's. What made it great is that the conversations would always take place 10 or 15 seconds after the news cast was over. The camera and the microphone would linger and I remember everyone in my family used to get the biggest kick out of listening to the funny comments..What struck me about Dan Cook is how old he looked then. Then, some years later I was travelling through San Antonio and who is on the TV but Dan Cook...What can you say? He's an icon in one of the United States' most provincial of cities.

Posted by: Anthony Westbrook on March 3, 2004 5:40 PM