Thursdays With Raider- Growing Up Wyoming


Raider Thoughts

Last week after I noticed you had made an accidental insistence that my fiancée and I have our wedding in a few months in Tucson, something occurred to me.  You may be the only person that I didn’t go to high school with that I can say the following sentence:

“Why can’t Campbell County split up into two high schools?  Those cousin lovers!”

(Note: I have to self edit the profanity out of that, as we are a family blog.)

You got me to thinking about our roots in Wyoming, and while I am not a native of the Cowboy State, I found out recently how deep my roots are in that state.  You can thank the good folks at the LDS Church Family History Center once this entry is done. Consider:

–my grandfather was born in Cheyenne

–my great grandpa was born and grew up in Sheridan.

–my great great grandparents had what appears to be a shotgun wedding up in Sheridan sometime in the Teddy Roosevelt Administration.

–my great grandma lived in Glenrock for a while after their family moved from the plains of eastern Colorado.

–my two nephews, Tryston and Garrett, terrorize my sister and mess up her house in Casper.

–the most successful fishing trips I ever had on fresh water were out at Pathfinder Reservoir.

–every few weeks I get a hankering to drive up to Rawlins for the Six Pack and a Pound at Taco Johns.

As you can see, it is true what former Wyoming governor Mike Sullivan said.  (Or at least what he is credited for saying) “Wyoming is a small town with very long streets”.  Sullivan’s own brother proved that to be true, as he lived on the same street our family did for a few years.  Looking back on it, he was every bit as noticeable with his compost heap and the Clinton/Gore bumper stickers on his car as I was with my Oakland Raiders gear.  But what makes our adolescences in Wyoming much different was that I wasn’t a Wyoming fan growing up and you were.  So now I will throw some of these questions on the great questions I have always had about the high falootin’, rootin tootin, sons o’ gun from ol’ Wyoming:

1. How good were the Wyo football teams in 1987 and 1988?  Perusing the Internet for this entry I happened to run across this interview with the head coach of those teams, Paul Roach:

You will also note that the legendary Larry Birleffi makes an appearance in this video, and only you can describe the sheer stuff of legend that is Larry Birleffi.  Ute fans have Bill Marcroft, but a lot of Poke fans have “Biff”.  Being sort of young, my only memory of Birleffi was his commentary late in his life on KGWN in Cheyenne and wondering why this guy was on the air not knowing what he used to do in his prime.

2. Did you hate BYU more than Colorado State?  CSU wasn’t good until Sonny Lubick came to town–yeah, I know, they were okay when Earle Bruce was there, but still–but I always got the impression that CSU would rather beat CU every year than beat Wyoming.  That and there’s just something about BYU that just brings out the worst in people.  I know that in the roughly 2 1/2 years I have lived in Utah, I have ventured into Utah County once, and that was the day I found out there was a Buffalo Wild Wings in Lehi.

3. For the younger crowd of Cowboy faithful, feel free to copy and paste the phrase “you young bucks out there thought the Josh Davis/Marcus Bailey era Pokes were good?  You didn’t see anything til you saw Fennis Dembo & Eric Leckner, son”.  Or you can alternate that and say if Jim Brandenberg had coached that 2002 team, they are a Final Four team. It’s up to you.

Given the fact that I went out of my way to slight and harbor bitterness toward the place for many years after I left, it’s safe for me to say that I have grown to like Wyoming a lot more than I ever did as a kid.  Maybe my priorities have changed a bit, or the proliferation of Boise State as a football program shifted my irritation.  Or that Tryston wants to be his uncle’s fishing buddy.  He still won’t tell me where he caught the very nice rainbow trout he caught last summer, so he is well on his way to angling glory.


So much to get after here , this is one of those blogs that you and I will enjoy and everyone else will be like, Wyoming Childhoods, really.  But I love it so here it goes.  The funny thing about Campbell County is they were nothing when I was in high school.  But when oil collapsed and coal took off, Gillette because the Soviet Union of Wyoming athletics.  However my nephew led Wyoming to an undefeated State Title and beat Gillette in the process (John Wendling now a Detroit Lion was on that team).  But I digress.

As for my Wyoming roots.  My parents were both born in Wyoming but her parents were born in Oklahoma Territory and Mississippi. On my dad’s side, my father, great-grandfather, grand-mother and great grand-mother all hail from Wyoming.  My great-great grandfather came over from Scotland.

My Great-Grandfather was also a state senator and was chosen to run for Senate, but he dropped dead of a heart attack, thus changing my fortunes greatly.

But now to the meat of your argument.

How good were the 1987 and 1988 teams.  I saw the 1987 team take Thurman Thomas and Oklahoma St. to the wire and do the same with with a good Iowa team in the Holiday Bowl.  The 1988 team was probably better.  They humiliated BYU to start the season (in the first night game in Wyoming History).  Sadly they ran into Barry Sanders and Okie Light in the Holiday Bowl and at the end are remembered for letting Sanders set a bunch of records.

I did hate BYU more, but that was because CSU was so bad in my childhood it was unbelievable that anyone could hate them.  My dad didn’t hate BYU however, he just didn’t respect them.  He saw them as a rich kid who went and bought a team.  Plus he blamed them for destroying Wyoming football over the Black 14 issues.  My fathers disdain for BYU was far worse than hate.

Isn’t it weird that Utah’s run of MWC championships was ended by Ratboy McClain.  I mean how in the hell did that happen exactly.  When people want to act like Utah hoops wasn’t sliding under Rick at the end, remember, we lost a title to Wyoming under Ratboy.  Do you even remember how that happened because I’ve blocked it.

I met Birleffi when I was a little kid.  And I’ve met Dave Walsh too, who is still the damn Voice of the Cowboys as I understand it.  What shocked me, with as much as he drank, Birleffi lived to be 90.  SERIOUSLY 90.  They should clone his liver as it would be the standard for all other livers.

I’ve grown more fond of my Wyoming childhood as I’ve been away.  But I would be away of the danger of moving back there.  Because when I visit, it seems like a very sad place where nothing has changed.  About a decade ago I was in Evanston and I ran into someone on the street from high school and we chatted.  Later I met some old friends for a drink and I said I saw this person.  They were shocked we talked because we got in a fight in high school.  A fight I didn’t even remember.  I wonder if the best of Wyoming isn’t left in our memories.

Raider Thoughts

You rehash the 2002 Cowboys hoops squad and I think what propelled them to the MWC title that year was the fact that they came into the Huntsman Center and beat us in Salt Lake for the first time in nearly a decade.  They had Josh Davis, Uche Nsonwu-Amadi, Jason Straight, Ugo Udezue, and likely the best player on that team, Marcus Bailey.  The last game of that regular season we played the Pokes at the A-A, which they won and claimed the regular season title outright, and you just had the feeling that year that it was going to be Wyoming’s year.  Somewhat surprisingly, that seemed to be the peak of McClain’s coaching career there, but now that you mention it, I think that may have signaled the beginning of the end of Rick’s journey here.  Andrew Bogut coming here masked a lot of lingering issues with this program if you ask me.

Often when I bring up anything related to high school sports in Wyoming, I fail to post a link to a very good documentary called “Chiefs”.  In this film, the filmmakers follow around the Wyoming Indian High School basketball team, and the importance of basketball in that part of the state.  For you non-Wyoming readers, right in the middle of the state is the Wind River Indian Reservation.  Riverton is technically within the boundaries of the reservation, but there are mostly smaller towns like Crowheart, Fort Washakie, and Ethete, where Wyoming Indian High is located.  If you ever want to put a bad day into perspective, drive out there sometime.

…or better yet, watch “Chiefs”.

I didn’t discuss the Black 14 to start off because there’s always that Ferris Bueller mindset that creeps into my mind about that.  Those 14 players weren’t Mormon, they had no plans on being Mormon, so who gives a crap if they don’t want blacks to progress in the gospel?  It still didn’t change the fact that they beat the living day lights out of the Y that day.  While I am not about to blame those players for doing what they did, do you think that Lloyd Eaton–their head coach at the time–could have handled that a lot better than he did?  Ponder what may have happened if the Black 14 never happens.  Wyoming had in essence done what we did in 2004 and 2008 in getting to the Sun and Sugar Bowls.  If they win the WAC again in 1969, we have to be talking about Lloyd Eaton and Wyoming and not Lavell and BYU as the gold standard (okay, maybe the brown and gold standard) in the old days of the WAC, aren’t we?

Which leads me back to the 1996 WAC Title game and how a possible Wyoming victory would have exorcised some of the demons that the Black 14 and maybe would have given guys like your Dad a modicum of closure. Look at the Utes as an example.  The day of the 3-0 Holy War game that clinched the MWC outright, I thought to myself, no more can the Zoobs hang the “no outright conference titles” label over our heads and we can move on with life.  Maybe it wouldn’t have made much of a difference, but maybe a lot of the old timers like your father might have said “this is payback for the Black 14!”

A while ago, my brother and I were talking about our adolescence, and he said to me “remember that one day we went out pheasant hunting and how cold it was?  And how we went out to Yellowstone Drug in Shoshoni?”  Yes, we went to get a famous malt at Yellowstone Drug in Shoshoni in the middle of December after going pheasant hunting.  That might be the most Wyoming anecdote I have in my arsenal.

Hopefully when either of my nephews go hunting in their near futures that they will realize that they will probably end up like they’re uncle who grew up to be about 5’8″ and maybe 165 pounds soaking wet and remember to wear a few more layers.

MAC Thoughts

Funny you should mention Wyoming Indian High as my dad had a great story about them.  Back in his day it wasn’t called Wyoming Indian High but was a Catholic name, I want to say St. Stephen’s but I’m only guessing.  Anyway, my father was from a town called Superior which is about 15 miles east of Rock Springs.  Now it has around 300 people and is mostly dead, but then it had a couple of thousand.  My pops was a 3 sport all-state performer for them in 8 man football, basketball and track.  Basketball was their best sport and they were state champions his senior year and runners up their junior year.

In any event he said the toughest team they faced and they played Rock Springs and Green River every year, was the Indian School.  He swore the best player he ever played was on that Indian school team and that year he played a kid at Rock Springs who ended up playing for Jack Gardner at Utah.  They played the Indian school four times while he was in school, he held that kid under 30 once and that was their only win.

So thanks for allowing me to chat about late 50’s Wyoming High School basketball.

But now that I think about McClain’s team, didn’t Bailey get hurt on a cheap shot the next season and that was that for McClain.

Maybe you’re right about 1996 WAC Title game.  Instead Tiller threw the game (allegedly) because he wanted to go to Purdue and knew Wyoming wouldn’t get a bowl game unless they won that game.  Honestly there isn’t another explanation for the final few minutes of that game.  A Wyoming victory became same as usual, a Wyoming coach leaving as soon as he’s successful and BYU still (sort of) being BYU.  And you’re right 2003 meant a great deal to me. Essentially 03-04 and the topping of 08 made most BYU smack roll off like water off a duck.  Really, your 25 year old mythical national title should hurt me?

Here is my great Wyoming story.  My brother is 10 years older than me and he had turned 16 and I was still five.  And I went with him to shoot guns one spring afternoon.  He had a new 30.06 and was quite proud.  We were out somewhere south of Rock Springs when we saw some antelope maybe 200 yards away.  So thinking it would be funny to see a five year old shoot a 30.06, he challenges me to shoot one.  So I take aim and bam, I drop one.

Well as you know spring isn’t antelope season so what I’ve done is commit a serious crime called poaching for those of you who don’t hunt.  And Wyoming doesn’t play with poaching.  So he takes the gun and gets us the hell out of there and we swear to never tell.  Twenty years later, my brother says it’s time and we tell my dad, who still yells at us.

Yes that is what it’s like to grow up in Wyoming.