Nothing beats those precious moments when you see true greatness in athletics.
We saw it in November of 2012 when quarterback Dallas Cook put Butte High on his back and brought the Bulldogs back from a 16-point fourth quarter deficit against Great Falls Russell in the semifinals of the football playoffs.
Greatness was on display recently in the pool at the Butte Family YMCA when Butte High sophomore Catherine Russo won the 100-yards butterfly by 10 seconds.
We saw it when Lexie Nelson shoot free throws, when Nolan Saraceni hit the open field, when Brodie Kelly played defense, when Dalton Daum ran, when Rachael McGree jumped and Erika McLeod stepped anywhere near a track, just to name a few.
To this day, though, the greatest athletic performance I’ve ever witnessed firsthand was in the woods of the Highlands south of Butte.
It was in the fall of 1986, and I was hunting elk with my older cousin Jerry D’Arcy. Jerry was closing in on 19, and I was 12. He graduated from Butte High earlier in the year.
I was about as out of place with that old 30-30 rifle in my hands as could be. I was not a hunter. I was nervous to even load the rifle, and I really didn’t want to shoot anything.
I just wanted to be with my cousins, and Jerry was the epitome of cool. He was the coolest on a motorcycle. He was the coolest playing Asteroids. He was the coolest listening to music. He was the coolest when he was sketching a picture.
Jerry introduced me to Richard Pryor, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Mountain Dew. He was everything I ever wanted to be, though I knew I could never pull any of it off.
Jerry was also a very good athlete. He was one of the best speed skaters in town back when that was really saying something, and he had a Butte High letter jacket. Jerry lettered in track or cross country for the Bulldogs, but the only time I remember him wearing the jacket was in his senior pictures.
I just know that his true athletic ability was not utilized at Butte High. I realized it that on my first day pretending to be a hunter.
My uncle sent me on a late-afternoon hunt with Jerry. It was an easy, flat walk and we were hopefully going to push some elk out to some other cousins and uncles
It was one of those last-ditch hunts that rarely turn up anything. I’m sure my uncle thought there was little chance we’d actually see an elk, otherwise he wouldn’t have tied Jerry down with me.
I realized that at the time, but I didn’t care. I was just thrilled that I got to go with Jerry.
Even on an easy walk, it was tough to keep up with Jerry. He had long, fast legs that never seemed to tire. He’d stop every now and then when I’d fall behind, but he’d start moving again the second I caught up.
Then, we saw a coyote.
Well, Jerry saw a coyote. I was too busy trying to keep up, hold my rifle safely and keep my hat from falling down over my glasses to see anything. I could have just walked by a heard of elk playing poker and I wouldn’t have noticed.
Before I even realized what was going on, Jerry took off after the coyote, and it was a thing of beauty.
Jerry put his rifle in his right hand and took off like a Devin Hester heading toward the end zone.
He was zig zagging through the thick forest and hurdling fallen trees like he was O.J. running through an airport.
It was amazing. I could only imagine what he would have done on a football field as I ran, trying to catch up.
I was also terrified because I saw my cousin disappear into the wilderness, and he was my guide. I had no idea where we were going, and suddenly I was thinking about those hunter safety videos about hunters getting lost and suffering from hypothermia.
Eventually, Jerry came walking back to me. As fast and agile as he was, the coyote was faster, and there was no way to get a clear shot in the thick woods.
I don’t think Jerry thought he had a shot at getting the coyote. Instead, he was running after it like he wanted to tackle it. He just knew it would be fun to give it a chase.
About a year and a half later, Jerry died in a tragic accident in the highlands. He crammed a lifetime full of living to the fullest into just 20 short years, and I’m sure that coyote chase is something that didn’t even register for him.
It sure did for me, though.
Tomorrow would have been his 50th birthday, and there is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t think of Jerry at least once.
I think about the time he gave me a piggyback ride down the hill at Discovery Basin because I was too big of a chicken to go down on skis. I remember the time he told me Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father before I saw The Empire Strikes Back.
I remember the crazy things we’d get away with when my parents would employ Jerry to babysit my brothers and me on New Year’s Eve.
I think about what he’d be like now. I wonder if he would have been married, and I bet his children would have been great. So would have his grandchildren.
I think about what we all missed when we lost Jerry at such a young age.
A lot of the time when I think about Jerry, I see him running away into the thick forest and disappearing like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson in the cornfield.
I’ll probably never see a more impressive athletic display than the one Jerry put on during that opening day of hunting season in 1986.
There is only one that even comes close. That was two years later when I thought I was lined up perfectly to tackle the great Josh Paffhausen during the middle school football jamboree at Bulldog Memorial Stadium.
Paffhausen hurdled me on his way to a touchdown. I fell onto my back as I reached up to try to grab his leg.
I rolled over to my stomach, and I looked downfield to see Paffhausen holding the ball in his right hand, zig zagging through the secondary and hurdling would-be tacklers like O.J. running through an airport.
Paffer was running like he had just saw a coyote.
— Bill Foley, who never shot an elk or a coyote, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.