Everyone was there when Lyle Alzado played against Montana Tech in the Copper Bowl in 1969 at Alumni Coliseum in Butte.
At least 45,000 people have claimed to have personally attended the game — some who weren’t even born yet — in a stadium that doesn’t have enough seats to hold 5,000 people.
About the same number of people have claimed to attend the game two years later when Don Heater ran for nearly 300 yards on the same field. Also, at least 100,000 say they were there when Cecil Fielder bounced a ball off the Our Lady of the Rockies statue in 1982, about three and a half years before the statue was erected on the East Ridge.
The length of the Fielder home run has become something of an urban legend.
Another urban legend witnessed by a crowd in the tens of thousands at Alumni Coliseum was the game when Montana Tech defender Matt Vincent jumped off sides five or six times — when Carroll College had the ball about an inch from the Oredigger goal line — forcing the officials to award the Saints a touchdown.
Even the non-exaggerating folks in the crowd that night will swear that our future former chief executive jumped off sides at least three times.
I wasn’t born when Alzado and Heater had their big moments at Alumni Coliseum. I saw Fielder hit a few home runs in 1982, but I’m not sure if I was there that night when he hit the ball to Delmoe Lake.
But I was in attendance (honestly) the night of the Matt Vincent Game, and I always swore that he jumped off sides at least four times, knocking the poor Carroll College tackle (or maybe tight end) back about 5 yards each time.
Vincent always contended that he only jumped three times, yet smiled sheepishly as I added an additional off sides each time I relayed the story in his presence.
So, nearly a quarter of a century later, I decided to head to the library and read the newspaper account of the game. I knew Bruce Sayler, a trustworthy scribe to say the least, covered the game for the paper, so I knew I would get an accurate answer.
So today I am here to put an urban legend to rest.
Against Carroll College that night, Vincent jumped off sides … drum roll please … twice.
You’re not going to believe me. Coaches, players, fans and even officials will tell you it was more. Much more. Even Vincent was surprised to learn he only jumped twice.
Bruce Sayler, though, does not lie when he reports on a game.
It was just so obvious what Vincent was doing in that situation. Was it pure genius or poor sportsmanship? Or, was it a combination of both?
I say both. If the Carroll lineman jumps, the ball is moved back 5 yards. If he doesn’t, the ball is moved an almost immeasurable distance forward. But you’re not going to win any sportsmanship medals by taking a shot at defenseless linemen.
The reaction by both sides and the magnitude of the game and rivalry made it seem like more. Much more.
The Tech-Carroll rivalry was particularly crazy on the night of Saturday, Oct. 9, 1993 when Bob Petrino’s Saints brought a 5-0 record to town to take on Bob Green’s 4-0 Orediggers in a game between the last two unbeaten NAIA Division I teams in the nation.
It was my first Tech-Carroll game, and almost every seat in the stadium — about 3,500 — was taken on the pleasant October evening.
Tech led 20-7 early in the third quarter before Carroll mounted a comeback.
Carroll’s J.J. Lamb scored on a 43-yard run to cut the lead to 20-14 with 10 minutes, 59 seconds left in the third quarter. Then Benji Robinson busted in for a 1-yard run to give the Saints a 21-20 lead with 7:24 left in the frame.
Late in the third, Carroll threatened again, and Lamb broke a 6-yard run to inside the Tech 1. From my view from the nose-bleed seats looking down the north goal line, it looked like the ball was an inch, maybe two, away from the end zone on the north end of the field.
As soon as the Saints lined up for the next play, Vincent jumped off sides, blasting the Carroll lineman. You could almost literally see the lightbulb turn on above his head as the referee moved the ball the microscopic half the distance to the goal.
Bam! Vincent jumped off sides again as soon as Carroll lined up, and the lineman flew backward. Again.
Carroll fans were outraged, while Tech fans laughed as they cheered.
Then the referee put his arms in the air, and Vincent became the first and only Tech player to score a touchdown for the Saints.
Tech fans were outraged, while Carroll fans laughed as they cheered.
Green, who felt another Carroll touchdown came with 12 men on the field, said he wouldn’t discuss the officiating to the media after the game, but everybody in western Montana knew the coaches position.
I could clearly hear every Green word from my seat at the top of the stadium.
“That,” Green yelled, “is not a rule. That is not a rule. That. Is. Not. A. Rule.”
The disputed touchdown put the Orediggers in a 28-20 hole.
Tech tied the game when Dave Glover hauled in his second touchdown pass of the game from Kent Graham, this time for 5 yards with 16 seconds left in the third quarter. Greg Barnes caught a pass for the 2-point conversion.
Carroll, though, took the lead for good with a 9-yard Robinson run early in the fourth. The Saints clinched a victory when Robinson hit Scott Leads for a 43-yard score with 3:39 left.
Many Tech fans funneled out of the stadium following the final Saints TD, and Carroll players and fans mockingly asked, “Where you going, Butte?”
That was my introduction to Tech-Carroll, a rivalry that takes a back seat to none.
Since that night, there have been many heated games, many arguments and another possible urban legend — like Nick Milodragovich allegedly signaling for a fair catch before returning a punt to set up Carroll’s game-winning touchdown — have taken place between the Saints and Orediggers at Alumni Coliseum.
One thing is for sure, though, when the Orediggers and Saints open the 2017 season on the Bob Green Field on Thursday night, Aug. 31, you will not see a Tech defensive lineman score a touchdown for Carroll.
There is no way that will ever happen again.
So it’s a good thing those tens of thousands of fans were there to witness it firsthand.
— Bill Foley, who has never scored a touchdown for Carroll College, writes a column that appears Tuesday on ButteSports.com. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74