The Tie that Binds
March 17, 2016
Grant Radakovich and Tony Perella are more than teammates. Long before the pair became a part of the Day Ones — Mercer’s first football recruiting class — their families had forged a bond that crossed religious and ethnic lines during the mid-1900s.
Grant and Tony became aware of the connection over four years ago. Another player, Wilson Heres, created a Facebook group for the new players to join once they committed to Mercer. In between high school highlight videos and posts advertising hats for sale, Tony’s mother, Donna, saw a player’s name that stood out.
She called her father — Tony’s grandfather — Lou Montini to check her suspicion. She was right.
Tony messaged Grant to tell him about it. Grant phoned his Deda — the Serbian word for grandfather — Dan Radakovich Sr. to talk to him about it.
“I asked Deda, ‘What do you know about Lou Montini?’” and he said, ‘Oh, Lou! I used to run with Lou back in the day.’”
Lou and Dan were neighborhood guys from just outside of Pittsburgh who became close in high school.
Lou joined the Army five days after he graduated. He was prepared to invade Japan when he was injured while boxing for his battalion.
“He always says he won the Golden Glove, but lost his career,” Donna said in a message.
Lou worked as a postmaster after. Dan, the son of a Yugoslavian immigrant, was born in 1928 and took a job as a local constable. The pair went out together quite often. Usually, they bowled or went dancing.
“I was told that Lou was a very good dancer,” Grant said.
The pair became so close that Dan was supposed to be the best man in Lou’s wedding, but there was a problem. At the time, Tony said, non-Catholics weren’t allowed to serve as the best man in a Catholic wedding. Dan — a devout follower of Serbian Orthodoxy — was out of luck.
The bond between the two grew during the 1950s and 60s and came to transcend generations. When Donna was robbed at gunpoint while working at a convenience store during her college days, Dan handled the case.
“He had all these cases going on, but he put that one [on top of the pile]. He said ‘that’s VIP right now,’” Tony said. “They didn’t end up catching the guy because my mom couldn’t remember his face because it was a crazy day. But it was cool that she came right to him.”
Things began to change when Lou became a snowbird — a Northerner who heads south for the winter — in the 1970s. Eventually, he made the move to live in Florida full time.
Donna would leave Pennsylvania too, spending time in Baltimore before settling in Augusta, Georgia.
Dan stayed. But other family members left. Grant’s father, Dan Radakovich, Jr. found an interest in sports. He worked as a graduate assistant at the University of Miami, then moved to LSU as a senior assistant from 2000-2005. Grant’s father then served as the athletic director at Georgia Tech from 2006-2012. Now, he occupies the same position at Clemson University.
That lost connection between the families was rekindled when all the players — including Tony and Grant — moved into Plunkett Hall. The connection served as a foundation for the two, Tony said.
“It’s always easier when you have a starting point,” he said.
The two never lived together, though Tony did live a floor above Grant that year in Plunkett. The sense of community was stronger than it would normally be, even for a freshman residence hall, Grant said.
“We’re all living there. We’re all teammates. We see each other every morning. When you’re together like that, it’s so easy to go hang out with people. Doors were always open,” he said.
Now, Tony and Dan are seniors, though both have one more year of eligibility. Tony hopes to get a master’s in mechanical engineering and turn an internship at Ez-GO, a golf cart manufacturer, into a full-time job. Grant wants to get his MBA and is interested in alcohol distribution. The pair’s time together is dwindling.
While the bond between one generation grew, another faded. Lou and Dan haven’t seen each other since Lou moved. The last time the Perella family saw Dan Radakovich, Sr., Tony’s uncle had died. That was in 2008.
The elder Radakovich is doing well. He goes to the mall every day and works out, Grant said.
Lou now lives in an assisted living facility in Florida. While he’s not as limber as he used to be, he still loves to dance. Tony and Donna got Lou a Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett CD for Christmas.
“He’s still trying as much as he can,” Tony said.
Lou, while still able to dance, isn’t in the condition to get on an airplane, so the distance and inability to travel make the possibility of a reunion slim. But both of the football players are holding out hope.
“We’re still waiting for the Lou Montini and Dan Radakovich, Sr. reunion,” Tony said.