ENGLEWOOD — Next time you’re in Dunmore, Pa., swing through Ragnacci’s Family Restaurant.
They’ll tell you all about Victor John Fangio, introduced Thursday as the Broncos' 17th coach.
It’s over on Blakely Street, blocks from Fangio's childhood home, where his 92-year-old mother Alice still carries two bags of groceries from the market and shovels snow. Thursday night is lobster night, but any night works. Homemade gnocchi, ravioli, meatballs — they’re all made fresh by the Ragnaccis, ever since Bob opened the Dunmore staple over 37 years ago.
“When you see Victor,” Bob Ragnacci said Thursday. “Ask him about the time he was bartending for me ...”
See, the more things change in Dunmore, the more they stay the same. The legendary Jack Henzes is the 82-year-old football coach who’s won over 400 games in 52 seasons with the Bucks. He still phones Fangio to swap ideas on the 3-4 and 4-3 defense. The weekly golf games still include Victor — never “Vic,” always “Victor” — when its favorite son is in town. And like the meatball recipes, the jokes get better with age.
Even as Fangio began a 40-year coaching career that culminated at Dove Valley with his first head coaching job, he was slingin’ drinks at Ragnacci's. And the locals, all of whom he knew and grew up with, would step inside the old-timey pay phone that sat over there, along that back wall, itching for someone to pull a fast one.
"The customers would go in the phone booth and dial the restaurant number and order a drink,” Ragnacci said. "Victor was standing a few feet away behind the bar, and he’d pour the drink.”
The 60-year-old Fangio said a bunch of telling things on the stage at UCHealth Training Center. With the Super Bowl 50 MVP in the room, Fangio said, "Von Miller can play better than he’s ever played in his career." He explained the philosophy that caught John Elway's ear during the interview process — “death by inches” — a maniacal attention to detail and emphasis on discipline. He revealed the San Francisco Giants won three World Series while he coordinated the 49ers defense, and the Cubs won their first in 107 years while he coordinated the Bears defense.
“So things might be looking up for the Rockies,” said Fangio, a diehard Phillies fan who’s sure to build bridges with Rockies skipper Buddy Black, a socialite unto himself.
This was a Broncos hire based in roots.
Elway and the Broncos sought to get back to theirs with a coach who's never strayed from his.
“I believe that football is still built from the ground up,” Elway said, pushing back on the NFL’s latest trend, going with 30-something offensive minds at head coach. "And I believe Vic is built from the ground up."
And Dunmore, Pa., is where you will find Fangio’s roots. The natives all described the town in different shades of “blue collar,” from the booming coal mine years to the teachers, bankers and factory workers who live there now.
"Friday nights in Dunmore, it’s almost like you would see on TV," said Anthony "Dip" Donato, who played at Dunmore in the 1970s and coached for years after. "They close the town down and everybody goes to the game."
Fangio was Class of 1976, an OK football player whose sharp mind gravitated toward coaching. One old friend said Fangio's big break in coaching actually arrived when he couldn't lock down a full-time teaching job. The Class of 1976's 40th reunion two years ago was so much fun they’re hosting a 60th birthday party in May.
"I'd say Victor is kind of like our town. Started from not much, paid his dues,” Donato said. "He was always a disciplinarian. Expects a lot of you, and he’ll give you everything he has. He’s a guy that left no stone unturned. You go into a game and you know you are well-prepared.”
“Very strict,” Ragnacci said. “A lot of people, you can read them the wrong way. It’s probably that way with Victor. He’s quiet, because he’s no-nonsense. He’s not going to intimidate anybody with his size. But he gains the respect of some of those huge people in charge of. Very, very smart."
Thursday, upon meeting Broncos lineman Derek Wolfe for the first time, Fangio punched the burly defender in the chest, thus becoming the first person to punch Derek Wolfe and live to tell about it. His message of sound, fundamental football was underscored by a limited wardrobe that screamed football guy: khaki pants with hems held together by clothespins and a deep-seated appreciation for sweatpants.
Bears CEO George Halas McCaskey gave Fangio the orange tie he grudgingly wore Thursday.
“I said, ‘George, can I do the press conference tomorrow in my gray sweats?’” Fangio said.
Back to bartending at Ragnacci's.
“First of all,” Fangio said, “how on earth do you know Ragnacci?”
Coach, we’ve been friends for over an hour now. Bob invited me over for ravioli and gnocchi.
“Sounds about right.”
Then came the emotion. When I asked Fangio what Dunmore and its 14,000-ish residents have meant to his life and 40 years of coaching football, the ball coach choked up. After a 12-second pause, Fangio collected himself: “Well, the first thing about Dunmore is that it’s home for me — even though I haven’t lived there since 1982. It’s still home for me. Every time I go back it still feels like home. Good people back there. They’re hard-working people. They’re salt-of-the-earth people. And I like to think I’m one of them and will always be one of them.
“And the bartending? I could pour a good 25-cent draft and a shot of whiskey. Anything else I couldn’t do.”
The good people of Dunmore, Pa., will tell you otherwise.