Even ‘Western guys’ deserve a new stadium

Even ‘Western guys’ deserve a new stadium

In 1999 or 2000, I covered a football game between Montana Western and Rocky Mountain College at Vigilante Field in Dillon.

The game was at night because the old Montana Power Company’s TV crew was televising the game.

That game sticks out because I stood in a very long line at the restroom with some players from Rocky at halftime that night. By “players,” I mean guys who just played in the first half and had to get ready for the second half.

By “restroom,” I mean one blue Port A Potty sitting on the track a few feet from the end zone. It was quite impressive that some of those lineman were able to fit inside and maneuver in full uniform.

Being the gentlemen that I am, I let all of Battlin’ Bears have cuts so they could get to their halftime adjustments. Those were being made as the team huddled in the end zone because the locker rooms at the middle school were too far away for the 20-minute halftime break.

Oh Nelly, welcome to big-time college football.

Yes, we are not far removed from Port A Potty restrooms at Bulldog football games.

While the rest of the Frontier Conference has been installing artificial turn, new seats, luxury boxes and giant televisions at games, the Bulldogs have been left behind.

Their biggest football stadium upgrades over the last couple of decades have been cramped restrooms, a Little League scoreboard, and an inflatable Western helmet that serves as the “tunnel” that the Bulldogs run through before the game.

Since the Bulldogs share the field with the Dillon Beavers, a powerhouse Class A high school team, the field still often resembles a cow pasture.

Actually, a cow pasture would have been a major upgrade over the field conditions for the Montana Tech-Montana Western football game last fall. The teams would have found better footing playing on a patch of land on the side of the highway.

The only stadium on par with Vigilante is Blue Pony Stadium, home of the MSU-Northern Lights in Havre. That, too, is a high school stadium.

This is not brought up to criticize the Bulldogs. On the contrary.

The Western players have turned those playing conditions into a badge of honor, and their old stadium is packed full of character.

It takes a special kind of player to play for Montana Western, especially on the football team. These are not players who are there for the fancy locker room. They revel in the fact that their field is uneven and usually sloppy.

They are not there to watch themselves on the JumboTron.

They are there to play football, and they do it well, especially when they play at Vigilante Field.

Over the past five seasons, the Bulldogs are 18-7 on their home turf, which opposing teams hate to see on their schedule.

The Bulldogs have long been the Oakland Raiders of the Frontier Conference, and the NAIA for that matter. Coaches go after players who fit the Bulldog mold. They go after “Western guys,” which is an honorable term the men who wear the title.

Last week, the school announced that the Bulldogs are going to get that new football stadium they have wanted for so long. Thanks to the generosity of John and Phyllis Erb, the Bulldogs will one day soon be playing in some new digs right next to campus.

The Erb family donated 14 acres for the stadium. The donation stipulates that Western raise $2 million in the next two years. That is about a third of the estimated cost of building the stadium.

While that might be small potatoes for some college football programs, that is a vey large task for a school that turns out teachers.

While you are hard pressed to find a more noble profession than teaching, it is far from high paying. So, major donations from graduates are few and far between.

Even though the Bulldogs have not been able to keep up with the Joneses of the Frontier Conference (except for Northern) as far as football accommodations, they have been knocking on the door of the NAIA playoffs the last several years.

They also had some great teams that missed out on the playoffs because the team had to take “money games.”

In 2004, for instance, Western watched as Carroll College and Montana Tech went to the NAIA playoffs. The Bulldogs tied with Tech and Carroll for the Frontier title at 6-2, and they split with both teams during the regular season.

Non-conference losses at Southern Utah and Central Washington, though, kept Western out of the playoffs, even though the Bulldogs tied with Carroll, the eventual NAIA national champion.

For some silly reason, an NAIA team could lose to Alabama, and the playoff raters would count it the same as a conference loss.

It is not out of the question to say that Western could have made a deep playoff run — and maybe won the whole thing — if the Bulldogs did not have to go on the road for “money games” that season.

With a new stadium, Western might be able to say goodbye to “money games” for good, like Montana Tech has.

A new stadium would be a great revenue source, and it could be the piece of the puzzle that takes the Bulldogs to the next step and beyond.

The stadium will also make Vigilante a better field for the Dillon Beavers because they would no longer have to share a field with the 100-plus players from Western. Sharing a field is never much fun for either side.

Opposing teams will like the new Western stadium, too. Actually, the fundraising campaign should probably ask for other Frontier schools to kick in a few bucks.

If they would have passed the hat around Montana Tech fans after the Bulldogs beat the Orediggers on the muddy mess last fall, the Bulldogs would have raised a couple of thousand dollars. At least.

Ah, but there is the drawback to the new stadium.

When news broke of the stadium plans, my first thought was to be happy for the Bulldogs. My second thought was to wonder what it would do to that giant chip on the Bulldog shoulders.

That chip, after all, has been the deciding factor in many Western wins over the years.

If Western has some new, fancy accommodations, would that edge be lost? Would those hardnosed Bulldogs suddenly turn soft if they had comfortable restrooms at halftime?

Nah, probably not. That chip is so deeply ingrained in the fabric of the Western guy that it would take decades, if not longer, to slide off.

Just to be safe, though, maybe the final stadium plans should include Port A Potty restrooms.

— Bill Foley, whose only chip is a Dorito, writes a column that appears Tuesdays on ButteSports.com. Email him at foley@buttesports.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.

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