Not taking the Heisman vote for granted

On Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2002, I got a call fairly early in the day.

My first thoughts were, “Well, Bruce can still sit at his desk and work with two broken legs” and “If he survived it, the heart attack can’t be that serious.”

Barbra LaBoe, a coworker at The Montana Standard, called to tell me the news. Sports editor Bruce Sayler, my boss and good friend, suffered a heart attack while driving home from work the night before.

She told me he crashed his truck, and he was in the hospital with two broken legs.

“Great,” was another thought I had. “He probably did it on purpose.”

The 2002-03 season was going to be the first year Montana played girls’ basketball during basketball season. The girls played in the fall before that, and we long dreaded the weekend of Dec. 6-7 when the you know what would hit the fan.

Basketball season started the same weekend as the Mining City Duals wrestling tournament, and we figured we didn’t have the time or manpower to get it all in the paper.

The news was much worse than I thought, so Bruce couldn’t help that weekend or many, many weekends after it. He had way more than a couple of broken legs to contend with. His body was shattered.

He passed out in his old Dodge truck, laid on the gas pedal and smashed into a pole on the corner of Wyoming and Park streets. The engine of the truck busted into the cab, crushing Bruce’s legs.

The steering wheel shattered all but a couple of ribs while, in all likelihood, restarting his heart. He had many other major injuries throughout his body, including a punctured lung and wounds to his liver and small intestine.

Bruce’s legs were so broken and cut that four inches of his right femur were missing. On top of all that, he had that whole heart attack thing to worry about.

Heading to the hospital, Bruce’s chances of surviving the night were less than 10 percent. His chances of walking again weren’t even that good. Thankfully, he did both.

Bruce spent the 37 days following the crash in the hospital. For the first week or so, Bruce was in the intensive care unit with a breathing tube jammed down his throat.

The first time I saw Bruce with the tube in his mouth,  I looked into Bruce’s eyes wondered what was on his mind. When I found out what it was, I had to laugh.

With the doctors and nurses coming and going, countless concerned visitors stopping by and all the hospital machines making all that noise, Bruce was worried about, you guessed it, his Heisman Trophy ballot.

Bruce had worked for about a quarter of a century as a sportswriter and editor before he was chosen to vote for the prestigious award. If he didn’t get his vote in on time, he feared he would lose that vote.

The first day Bruce could finally talk, he sent his son Matt to the newsroom to get his ballot. He got it mailed just in time, and the crisis was averted.

After countless surgeries and an amazing display of determination, Bruce recovered. It took a long time, but eventually he worked his way back to working full time as the sports editor.

While he could have easily qualified for full disability, especially since doctors agreed the heart attack was brought on largely by stress from the job, Bruce kept working. He did so because he was loyal to his employer and, more importantly, his coworkers.

It was so good to have him back.

Then I got the call from Bruce’s wife, Eileen, late in the afternoon of March 26, 2012. She told me Bruce’s job was eliminated by The Montana Standard in a cost-cutting move. Lee Enterprises didn’t return the loyalty, and Bruce was effectively fired on the spot.

That move cost the paper the a great sports editor and an even better man. It also eventually cost them the services of fellow sportswriters Pat Ryan, Sean Eamon and myself. We could not stand for that decision.

The short-sighted move also put Bruce’s Heisman Trophy vote in jeopardy because a stipulation in voting for the award is that you must have a media affiliation.

Bruce was chosen to be a voter after another Montana voter retired. He was one of a handful of Heisman voters in the state.

Luckily, we got ButteSports.com up and running just in time.

Not long after the website was launched on Aug. 17, 2012, Bruce received notice that ButteSports.com qualified as a media affiliation worthy of the Heisman Trophy.

Recently, Bruce received word that is still the case in 2013.

This year’s Heisman race is a complicated one. There’s a potential arrest, some serious small-school contenders and a bunch of deserving players who seemingly gave away the trophy with tough team losses.

I honestly have no idea how Bruce will vote, and I have no clue who I would vote for.

I just know that Bruce’s vote is one that he will not take lightly.

—Bill Foley, who would IS NOT a Heisman voter, writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.

Note: This column will also appear in this week’s edition of The Butte Weekly.

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4 Comments

  • Smooth
    December 3, 2013, 11:48 am

    Thanks Bill. Great article!

    REPLY
  • Tedd Stanisich
    December 3, 2013, 12:17 pm

    Foles- nice job – Bruce deserves sports writer of the year for his wonderful article on the over rated SEC

    REPLY
  • A Dale
    December 5, 2013, 1:04 pm

    Bruce Sayler is the definition of Class. 100 percent. He is by far one of the best people I have ever met in my life to date, and I have run into many, many, many. His humor, smarts – and personally – his support are much appreciated. I just hope we get to sit side-by-side at hoops games and laugh at another “dominant” .500 record in bowl games. OH HEY BRUCE….SEC this year? 2-5 vs. ranked teams outside the SEC. Ammo, buddy, ammo.

    REPLY
  • A Dale
    December 5, 2013, 1:05 pm

    Clarification…I have run into many, many, many “people”.
    I have only run into a handful at best of “great people”….that is what Bruce is….simply great.

    REPLY
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