This is a story about a local boy who made good, and also got a nice tan along the way.
When Mark Dalton was a student at Salesianum School in the late 1980s he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do for a career. He knew he loved sports – he grew up as a fan of all the Philadelphia sports teams, and especially the Eagles – but he had no idea where that would lead him.
Well, it eventually led him to Arizona, where Dalton is the senior vice-president of media relations for the Arizona Cardinals. The NFL is the top sports league in the country and the pinnacle of the sports public/media relations profession is to become the head man for one of those teams. There are only 32 of those jobs available, and Dalton has one of them.
Dalton was back in the area last week as the Cardinals played the Eagles on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
But Dalton’s road to the Valley of the Sun really started at 18th and Brooms streets in Wilmington.
“It was such a great experience and to this day I still have life-long friends from there,” Dalton said of Sallies. “The one thing Salesianum had, which I think was pretty advanced at that time, was a fully-operational TV studio from which we produced in-house news programs. Specifically, the students put together a WSAL home-room show that would air a couple times a week during school.
“I was the sports guy on the show,” he added, “and my aspirations at that time were to pursue a career on sports journalism or broadcasting, since those things occupied most of my time anyhow.”
After graduating from Sallies in 1988, Dalton went to Temple University, which has strong media programs, but then lightning struck and his career path changed. He found out that the Philadelphia Eagles were looking for a part-time, voluntary intern for their media relations department, and he thought it would be good experience even if he didn’t get paid. He interviewed with Ron Howard, the head of Eagles P.R. at the time, and he got the job, although he certainly didn’t know at the time that it would change his life.
“There was the opportunity to do a lot of meaningful things and pick up some really significant hands-on experience,” Dalton said.
That’s when Dalton realized what he wanted to do with his life – if he couldn’t become a media member he would work with the media. He eventually became a paid assistant with the Eagles, but he wasn’t content with that. So, he struck out on his own and took the job as head of media relations for the Birmingham Barracudas of the Canadian Football League – yes, there was once a CFL team in Alabama.
“It lasted just one season, but career-wise it was an unbelievable opportunity,” Dalton said. “There was no template. You got to interact and shape many different areas of the operation and, at 25, the experience was incredibly valuable.”
After the Barracudas folded Dalton moved to the NHL and was an assistant P.R. man for the New Jersey Devils for a couple of years.
“This industry is like a number of others, in that advancing through the ranks often means that you have to move around,” he said. “My experience with the Eagles helped me understand that this was definitely a profession I wanted to stay in, but you also learn quickly that the jobs and opportunities are very limited.”
Dalton then joined the real world for a while and worked for Dan Klores Communications, a big-time public relations firm based in New York City that counts as clients everyone from Moet & Chandon Champagne to Spam (the kind you eat).
Dalton had a nice career going with Dan Klores, but he wanted to get back in sports and took a job as an assistant in the media department of the Buffalo Bills, where he worked for six years.
“It was an awesome experience and I loved every minute of it,” Dalton said. “It’s a great organization with passionate fans, and you can say what you want about the notorious Buffalo winters, but the people and place are truly special.”
There’s another, more important reason why chilly Buffalo has a warm spot in Dalton’s heart – it’s where he met his wife, Kathy, and where their first child, a son named Will, was born. In 2004, Kathy was pregnant with their second child, a daughter who would be named Katherine, when Dalton heard that the Cardinals were looking for someone to head their public and media relations department.
He got the job and traded the snow of Buffalo for the sun of Arizona — hence the “nice tan” part of the equation. And Dalton has been with the Cardinals through an era of transition, when they moved from old, dilapidated Sun Devil Stadium to shiny, new University of Phoenix Stadium. And when Dalton joined the Cardinals they were one of the worst teams in the NFL, and since then they have won three divisional championships, advanced to the NFC Championship Game twice and played in the franchise’s first Super Bowl, where they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.
Not all of the memories are good ones, however. Dalton’s first day on the job was on April 23, 2004, which was the same they found out that Pat Tillman – a former Cardinals player who enlisted in the Army after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 – had been killed in Afghanistan.
But Dalton knows that he’s been blessed and a combination of hard work and good fortune has given him his dream job.
“I don’t take any of this for granted and I always try to appreciate how lucky I am to do this,” he said. “I know that many of those who passed through the halls of Salesianum have gone onto much more successful and prosperous careers, but I doubt many have enjoyed theirs more.”