Butte-Anaconda union is bad news for competition

Butte and Anaconda kids have disliked each other for decades.

When it comes to adults from the Mining City and Smelter City, however, it is a completely different story.

While the Maroons and Bulldogs have had long, bitter rivalries with the Copperheads, they usually form a pretty good bond when they graduate and go to college.

You better believe that if there is a group of guys fighting Butte guys in a bar in Missoula, Great Falls, Bozeman or Billings, it is almost a given that some Anaconda guys will be fighting alongside their friends from the Mining City.

You also better believe that the Butte-Anaconda combo is almost always going to win. A Butte-Anaconda one-two punch has long been bad news for any competition.

Anaconda and Butte has always had kind of a sibling rivalry. I can beat him up, but you better keep your damn hands off him.

My first fray into the Butte-Anaconda rivalry came as I was lying on my back on a field just west of Anaconda’s Mitchell Stadium. A dirty Anaconda player was pointing down at me and laughing.

I was playing defensive line for Butte Central in a seventh grade game, and the Anaconda offensive lineman grabbed my facemask as I popped out of my three-point stance. He twisted my neck and spun me to the ground and onto my back.

I could not decide what was more egregious. Was it that the officials did not call the holding or that they did not call the facemasking? Or was it that the Copperhead was laughing at me because he knew he could get away with dirty play all game long in Anaconda?

Realizing that the officials were not watching the trenches very well, I came fighting back on the next play. I jumped up at the snap of the ball and hit the Anaconda player near the shoulder with my left hand. I delivered an uppercut to his belly with my right.

We battled back and forth like this until Brody Kelly hit Cam McQueary for a long touchdown pass to win the game in the final seconds.

Two years later, I played 30 to 40 seconds a game on the freshman basketball team. I played just long enough against the Copperheads for a giant Anaconda player to give me a forearm to the face.

In perfect timing, the ball bounced right into my hands right as the players from both sides started walking down to the other end of the court because of the foul called on Anaconda’s goon.

I turned around and all I could see through the blurry eyes was the back of his big, dumb head. I threw that ball as hard as I could. My aim was a little low, and I hit him between the shoulders.

He turned around with his dukes up, but the referee stepped between us to stop a fist fight on the Civic Center floor.

The rest of the night — during the junior varsity and varsity games — I was sure to take a friend with me every time I went to the restroom or concession stand.

That Anaconda player, who looked like an super-sized version of the fat kid from Bad Santa, promised he was going to kick butt in the postgame handshake.

Then he and his tiny friend kept glaring down at me from the Anaconda student section. They were repeatedly pounding their right fists into their left hands — the universal sign that “you’re dead meat.”

Bus trips to Anaconda were always full of mostly-embellished stories about the great rivalries of the past. We talked about bus windows being busted out. We even heard stories about busses being tipped over on their side, and we believed them.

By far the best thing about going to Anaconda for a game was the relief of making it back out of town safely.

By the time golf season rolled around in the spring of my freshman year, I realized that Anaconda guys were not all bad when our team shared a bus with the Copperheads for road trips.

By the time I got to college at the University of Montana, I realized Anaconda guys were pretty much just like Butte guys.

We basically came from the same hard-nosed mining background. We had the same superfund stigma that the rest of the state looks down on. We talked alike. We thought alike. For the most part, we voted alike.

The older we get, the stronger the bond gets between Butte and Anaconda. Some of the best men and women I have ever known are former Copperheads.

Even that goon I threw the basketball at turned out to be a pretty good guy.

Now, Butte Central and Anaconda are in talks about joining forces to form one football team. They could also co-op in wrestling, softball, golf or any other sport that is in jeopardy of fading away because of a lack of numbers.

The odds of that happening are at best 50/50 because there is some pushback on both sides.

There are a lot of logistic problems that could stop such a merger. The biggest obstacle, though, is pride.

After decades of strongly disliking each other, how can Copperheads and Maroons come together to play football?

The thing is, a merger in football and other sports is not going to end the Butte Central-Anaconda football rivalry. That rivalry, which had not been near the level it used to be over the last 20 years the Maroons and Copperheads played, is already over.

Anaconda is in its fourth year playing in the Class B, and the Copperheads and Maroons have not met on the gridiron since 2014.

Butte High has not played Anaconda in football since the 1980s. The Bulldogs and Copperheads have not met on the basketball court since Anaconda moved down from the Class A.

The familiarity that will come from the Copperheads and Maroons combining on the football field might even add to the rivalries in other sports. That seems to be the case with longtime rivals Drummond and Philipsburg, which combined to form the 8-man powerhouse that are the Flint Creek Titans.

The cold, hard truth is that the Butte Central and Anaconda football numbers are getting too low to consistently compete at any level of 11-man football.

According to the latest numbers by the Montana High School Association, Anaconda has 321 students. Butte Central has 133.

If you add BC’s numbers to Anaconda’s, you would have 454 students to choose from. That would put the combined schools as the 12th biggest school in the Class A.

While I would much rather see Butte Central players co-op with Butte High for football, we all know will see Donald Trump give Nancy Pelosi a five-second Frencher on top of the Great Border Wall long before we ever see the Bulldogs and Maroons come together.

A union of Butte Central and Anaconda just might be the last chance to keep these two storied football traditions alive. It will have the added benefit of starting a new one.

Another added bonus would be that the rest of the state absolutely hates this idea.

The rest of the state knows full well that Butte and Anaconda joining forces has long been bad news for the competition.

— Bill Foley, who has never tipped over an Anaconda bus, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. Check out his NFL picks on Thursdays.