Pat Kearney was so proud of himself.
He set down his radio gear and then stood in my office doorway beaming shortly after calling a Butte Central football game at Alumni Coliseum.
“Did you hear me?” Pat asked with his deviant smile stretching ear to ear.
“Yeah, I heard,” I said as I reclined in my office chair. “It was beautiful.”
Kearney, who passed away 5 years this past Saturday, was the play-by-play announcer for Butte Central games for KOPR, the studio of which is right next to my little-used office in the Butte Broadcasting Inc. building.
Normally, I work from home. An internet outage that night, however, sent me to the office to post photos to go along with our Butte High and Butte Central football stories on ButteSports.com, among other things.
There, I listened to the second half of Kearney’s call of the Maroons as I finished up work in the quiet and mostly-dark office on that fall Friday night in 2014.
Kearney, a local historian who compiled detailed records of Butte High and Butte Central football and basketball games from the beginning of time, was fired up because the local newspaper, The Montana Standard, decided to skip Butte Central’s game that night.
The paper was hearing complaints from Anaconda readers about the lack of coverage for the Copperheads, and management decided to send a sportswriter to a game in Anaconda instead of Alumni Coliseum to cover the Maroons that night.
Butte High was also playing in town, and the paper sent a writer to cover that game.
Kearney was mad. Really mad. He knew this was an unprecedently bad move by the paper, and he made sure his listeners heard it over and over and over.
In his unmistakable voice that blended Brent Musburger with Kermit The Frog, Kearney repeatedly proclaimed, “For the first time in the history of Butte Central football, The Montana Standard does not have a sportswriter at a home game.”
Kearney also offered a plug for Butte Sports, which he was associated with since its inception a little more than two years earlier.
“Thankfully, we have ButteSports.com, where we have writers like Bruce Sayler, Bill Foley and Pat Ryan.”
At one point, Pat said something like, “Peoples fires and Harper makes a great catch. But of course, you won’t read about in The Montana Standard.
“You have to go to ButteSports.com and read Bruce Sayler’s story. You can also read Pat Ryan’s story on the Butte High Bulldogs.”
Kearney, a co-founder of the Butte Sports Hall of Fame, was, after all, the same man who led the way as the Butte Ancient Order of Hibernians passed the Anaconda bagpipers in the beginning of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Butte several years earlier.
“This is Butte,” Pat said, struggling to believe someone would put a group from Anaconda first in Butte’s parade. “Let them go to Anaconda.”
Pat never shied away from conflict, and he seemed to revel in arguments, especially when people questioned him on the choices of the Hall of Fame.
As his longtime friend Don Peoples Sr. says of Kearney, “He wasn’t always right, but he was never in doubt.”
Kearney brought that defiance into everything he did, and he did a lot with the Hall of Fame, running the Veterans Day Race, writing his many books, compiling stats and his radio work. Oh, and he had a full-time job, too.
Sayler says it was if Kearney somehow had more than 24 hours in his day.
Until the night he called out the Standard, the parade passing might have been his most defiant moment.
Two and a half years before the Standard skipped the BC game, the paper cut Sayler’s job because he was about to turn 60 years old. At least that is how I saw it.
I soon left the paper because I could not, in good consciousness, continue to work there after that.
So, I thought it was great to hear Pat Kearny stick it to my former employer while also building up my new gig.
Pat was so fired up because he understood the role the local newspaper was supposed to play in keeping the official record for the game. Today’s game story and box score are tomorrow’s history, and Pat was a student of history.
When Pat compiled all those records, he did so by sifting through old editions of The Montana Standard to read the box scores.
In 2014, the Maroons were on their way to the Class A state championship game, where they eventually lost to Dillon at home. Nobody appreciated the campaign the Maroons were putting together more that Pat, and his understanding and conveyance of the historical significance added to the season.
He could tell you right off the top of his head the year Butte High and Butte Central won state titles, and he could tell you where the title game was played.
Two years earlier, Kearney pointed out to Ryan that Butte High’s win over Bozeman in the state championship game marked the first time the Bulldogs won a title contest in Naranche Stadium.
Kearney loved delivering those kind of tidbits. He always made sure to tell the sportswriters because he wanted everybody to know what he knew.
During the first game of that championship season, Butte High sophomore Dalton Daum was involved in a crazy play.
He lost the kickoff in the sun. After the ball bounced around and Great Falls Russell players converged, Daum reached down to grab the ball with one hand. Then, like he was shot out of a cannon, he raced untouched 99 yards for a touchdown.
The play flipped the momentum after a CMR touchdown and set the tone for Butte High’s season-opening win.
As the Naranche crowd finally started to settle down after the touchdown, I saw Pat waving at me from the visiting bleachers behind the Bulldog bench. He tracked me down because he wanted the world to know that Daum’s 99-yard kickoff return was incredibly not a school record.
Without even looking it up, Pat knew that a Butte High player named Joe Phillips returned a kick 102 yards against Montana Wesleyan in 1907.
That is a record that can never be broken because if the ball or the returner with the ball touch the end zone on a kickoff in Montana high school football, the play is blown dead. It is a touchback.
The night after he called out the paper on the airwaves was the last time I talked or saw Pat. He died unexpectedly a week or two later at the age of 59.
Hardly a day goes by that I don’t miss Pat and his tidbits of history. I miss the emails, phone calls and taps on the shoulder to tell me when a record was broken or threatened, or might be broken or threatened.
Pat always made my job easier. Even though I am writing about something as trivial as sports, he made what I was doing seem like it was the most important job in the world.
What I would not give just to be able to pick up the phone for one more conversation with him. What I would not give to see that deviant smile just one more time.
It has been 5 years since Pat Kearney left us.
Somehow, it seems more like 50.
— Bill Foley, whose voice sounds nothing at all like Kermit The Frog, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Check out his NFL picks every Thursday. 6 comments