Leo Durocher never really said “Nice guys finish last.”
When the Brooklyn Dodgers manager supposedly said one of the most famous lines in sports history, he was talking about the New York Giants. Basically, Durocher said the Giants were nice guys, but they finished last.
Headline writers made a pithy sound bite, though, forever tying Durocher to the line jerks use to try to justify their brutish behavior.
While the sporting world has been filled with successful jerks, it also has seen enough nice people win over the years to cast doubt on one of the world’s most famous misquotes.
Saturday night in Anaconda, Mariah Cooney forever proved it wrong.
By now you’ve seen the photo or heard the story of how Cooney, a 6-foot Butte Central senior post player, carried injured Kiernan Gallagher, a 5-6 Anaconda junior, off the court and to the team trainer during a game between the storied rivals.
If you haven’t seen the Blake Hempstead photo, here it is. I dare you not to cry …
This wasn’t an injured Belgrade Panther or Billings Central Ram who Cooney helped out. This was a Copperhead. The other side of a rivalry where words like “hate” and “bitter” have been thrown around.
This would be like Alex Rodriguez lending a helping hand to Pedro Martinez. It’s Mike Ditka extending an olive branch to Forrest Gregg.
It’s Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas exchanging a kiss on the cheek on the court. OK, so that last one is a bad example, but you get the point.
It wasn’t long ago that the Maroons and Copperheads almost had an all-out brawl on the football field.
Last year as the teams warmed up before a football game at Anaconda’s Mitchell Stadium, Anaconda players chanted , among other things, “We hate BC,” prompting a nose-to-nose exchange that stoked a fire that had been burning for more than a century.
When I was in junior high school, the Butte Central cross country coach, who was a college student at the time, got jumped and beat up outside the Snake Pit in Anaconda because he was from Butte.
That was at a girls’ basketball game.
In the fall.
It wasn’t all that long ago that a hard foul on a Butte Central player nearly led to another fight when the Maroon popped up with his fist corked. The Anaconda student section heard from the Montana High School Association that year, at least in part of what it called the BC player after that encounter.
We’ve all heard the stories of broken windows on buses, police escorts for teams and other horror stories — some real, some not — of the Butte-Anaconda rivalry.
Copperheads don’t help Maroons. Maroons don’t help Copperheads. Well, at least not until we go to college and we’re on the same side when push comes to shove.
Then, Gallagher rolled her ankle and couldn’t make it to the bench. Cooney swooped up her rival and carried her to the Anaconda bench like a husband carrying his bride.
The Butte and Anaconda fans couldn’t believe what they saw. Then, Copperheads and Maroons fans cheered together. It usually takes the national anthem to get those two to stand as one.
We’re not talking about the Russians chanting “Rocky, Rocky,” but it was a shocking turn of events nonetheless.
It was an event that should be relived on ESPN with Jeremy Schaap narrating in his over-the-top, melodramatic tone. Real Sports with Bryant Gumble should send Frank Deford to town.
Since Cooney first came onto the prep sports scene as a freshman, I was in the camp that said she needed to be meaner to be a better player. While she showed flashes and was always a very good player, I figured if Cooney developed a mean streak she could be one of the best in the state.
If you could take the mean streak of her coach, Meg Murphy, Cooney would be All-State. If you could combine Cooney’s ability and the on-court meanness of former University of Montana star and longtime Missoula Big Sky coach Marti Leibenguth, the Butte girl would be headed to Tennessee or Baylor.
Of course, I was wrong.
Cooney has been on fire over the last month. She saved her best performance for her last regular-season game in a BC uniform, scoring a career-high 21 points in BC’s 54-39 win over the Copperheads.
Cooney averages 9.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. She’s averaged 12 points per game while scoring in double figures five times in BC’s last eight games.
The only thing stopping Cooney from scoring 20 points every night the last month is that she doesn’t have to. In Hannah Stajcar, Danee Leary, Alysea Pica and Danika Neumann, the Maroons have plenty of scoring options.
Mariah Cooney didn’t suddenly turn into Gerry Cooney on the court, either. She still plays with the happy-go-lucky attitude that BC fans have come to expect from Mariah being Mariah.
Right now, Cooney is one of the best players in the state. She’s a key in what the Maroons hope will be another run at the State title. Cooney has definitely turned into the player we all thought and hoped she’d be and more.
After Saturday night, she might also go down as the best sport in the history of our state.
Take that Leo Durocher.
— Sportswriter Bill Foley, who has never carried an opponent off the court, writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74. 8 comments