A Football Weekend in March.
It’s March. The college football champion has been crowned – Alabama as I recall. The Eagles upset the Patriots for the Super Bowl crown. Super Bowl parties — partied and done. What’s left for March?
The Montana Football Hall of Fame, that’s what! (click on the link)
Sam Jankovich called me in January asking if I had any good “headshots” of him that he could send to the Montana Football Hall of Fame, as he was to be inducted in March. So I sent a few.
When Diana and I came to Helena in March I had no plans to attend the event in Billings. Diana kept telling me that I should go, but I really didn’t have much desire to go – expensive banquet ticket, car rental, hotel, and a long drive that I really didn’t look forward to. But after Diana once more got after me I called Sam’s son and found he was going along with his wife, a son and a grandson. So I made a hotel reservation and then called Billings to get a ticket. The fellow I talked to was the Chairman of the HoF committee, and as we talked I explained my interest and that I had edited and published Sam’s memoirs. Rick asked if I had anything they could use in the program, and I sent him my Forward to the memoir and a few pictures. It turns out that they didn’t have much information on Sam, so Rick scurried around and made some minor edits in the forward and that’s what showed up in the program book, so this was a pleasant surprise for me. This was all at the last minute in terms of the publication of the program book. I met Rick at the event, and he was very appreciative of what I gave them. The punch line in my forward is this:
“How did this young man, a hard rock miner from Butte Montana, rise from the depths of a mine tunnel to one day stand beside two Presidents and among three National Championship college football teams? From a dirty and dangerous mine to stand beside Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testeverde and coaches of the caliber of Jimmy Johnson and Dennis Erickson? How did this young man rise from that dark, cold mine shaft to become Chief executive Officer of the New England patriots? How did this man expand a football stadium in Pullman Washington from 24,000 to 39,000 seats – with no cost to the tax payer?
Sam Jankovich came to the surface of the Leonard mine and rose to the top of his chosen profession of athletics. From state championship teams in Butte — to assistant coaching at universities in Montana and Washington — to Athletic Director at Washington State and the University of Miami – to CEO of the Patriots. All along the way earning induction into the Halls of Fame of these institutions.
As the editor of Sam’s memoirs I learned the answers to these questions. Sentence by sentence – paragraph by paragraph – page by page – place to place. I found myself answering these questions with words like ‘character’, ‘loyalty’, ‘quality’ and ‘consistency’ deftly bubbling up from the pages. I began to see the character of the man as golden threads woven through the fabric of his life and career. Part of the fabric and yet distinctly visible.”
So I went to the event and am so glad I did. Sam has become such a dear friend in recent years and I feel so blessed that he has come into my live.
The event was very well done, and attended by 475 people. It was fun watching the interactions between old teammates and hearing their testimonies . Most of the 8 inductees had careers spanning high school through the NFL, including several who played in Super Bowls.
One particularly interesting story was that of Sam McCullum, the son of an Air force man, raised in segregated Mississippi. He told of that experience, and contrasted it with the good experience of living in Northwest Montana as a young high school student where he was treated with respect. When Sam started playing sports in Montana he had never played any sports at all – and he went on to a long career as an NFL player with the Seahawks and Vikings. In fact, Sam caught the very first touchdown pass for the new Seattle Seahawks team.
Sam Jankovich’s speech was inspiring. He talked about such interpersonal relational things as honesty, loyalty, integrity and character. Hearing his speech I can see how he was successful in all he set out to do, and how he garnered such love and respect from many, including me.
On Sunday afternoon a group of about 30-40 gathered at the Butte Civic Center to honor Sam in front of many Butte people who have been part of Sam’s life. There were several of his players there from the state championship teams of 1961 and 1964, two of whom I recalled from those days. Again, Sam gave an inspiring speech centered on honoring those that did so much in launching his long professional career.
I was finally able to get pictures of me and Sam together. I didn’t have a copy of the book so I borrowed one from Wayne, one of Sam’s 61 players.
You can purchase your own copy of Sam’s story by clicking on the image just above — I hope you do!
So that’s my story of football in March.