Before I even knew there was a Butte Sports Hall of Fame, I knew Josh Paffhausen was a Butte Sports Hall of Famer.
I learned it the hard way, too. It was on the field at East Junior High Stadium, which is now known as Bulldog Memorial Stadium.
I was playing for Butte Central Junior High. Coaches Jack Hogart and Sean “Tank” Maloughney took one look at me and sent me down to work out with the lineman — offensive and defensive.
It was on the defensive side that I got to see the Great Josh Paffhausen up close. Well kind of.
I was playing defensive tackle, and Paffer, the quarterback of one of the East teams, took off running to his left and found no room to run. So he cut back to the middle and ran right at me.
I focused on the numbers on the front of Paffer’s jersey and I readied for my big hit on the athlete who was a legend by the time he was in the fifth grade. I was going to light him up Mike Singletary style.
The next thing I remember was reaching up and grabbing, unsuccessfully, at Paffer’s shoes. Then, without making contact, I found myself flat on my back.
Josh Paffhausen had just hurdled me. As a seventh grader, I didn’t think that was even an option. I figured he might try to go to one side or the other. Over the top was out of the question. It wasn’t for Josh Paffhausen.
Then, I laid on the ground and watched Paffhausen scamper like a deer, shaking and baking through the rest of my teammates on his way to one of many touchdowns. As he held the ball in one hand, all I could think of was that I couldn’t have even brought him down with a 30-06.
At halftime we gathered in the end zone as Coach Hogart lost his mind. He was not happy with anybody on the team. He didn’t say it, but I always figured he was a little more disappointed with me.
“You guys are making Paffhausen look like a damn Super Star,” Coach Hogie said.
We’re all afraid to say it, but I’m pretty sure every player on the team thought the same thing. “Uh, coach, he’s pretty much doing that himself.”
Of course, we all know the story of Josh Paffhausen. He led Butte High Bulldogs to the 1991 Class AA State title. He played on the 1995 NCAA Division I-AA national champion Montana Grizzly team.
Paffer is going into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame this weekend alongside his father, Wayne, and his brother, Scott, a member of the State champion 1984 Butte High basketball team.
In 1996 I assumed Josh Paffhausen was in line to fill the shoes of Dave Dickenson after “Super Dave” set Missoula on fire, but it turned out he was just too good of an athlete to do that.
The starting quarterback job went to Brian Ah Yat that year, tough, and the Grizzlies went 14-0 before losing to Marshall in the national championship game.
In explaining the decision to go with Ah Yat, head coach Mick Dennehy explained that Paffer was just too good of a weapon. He could play receiver and be a threat. Ah Yat, who was also an awesome quarterback, would have just been a backup quarterback if Paffer started behind center.
I never heard Mick say it, but I’d bet anything that he would tell you that if Paffer would have been the quarterback in 1996 the Grizzlies would have went 14-0 before losing Marshall in the title game.
Paffer, being the true great player that he was, never complained. He just excelled at the new position.
Even though his 1997 season had a damper put on it because Paffer’s surgically repaired ACL basically dissolved, he still produced.
On Saturday that season, Paffer set the team record with 15 receptions in a Grizzly win. He played despite being hospitalized with a severe fever just a few days before. He was basically playing on one leg.
I watched Paffer’s career at UM like a proud brother because to know Josh Paffhausen is to be a friend of Josh Paffhausen. I really don’t think the goofball ever really knew he was so great because he certainly never acted like it.
Without a doubt, he would have played in the NFL if he would have stayed healthy. Without a doubt.
Through it all, the best thing about watching Paffer play at Washington-Grizzly Stadium was that every play helped me make peace with myself for that failed tackle attempt.
I’m sure glad I didn’t have that 30-06.
Get well soon, Hogie
Another moment I will never forget came on the same field where Paffer embarrassed me that night.
This time it was fall of 2003, and the Red Sox had just lost Game 1 of their playoff series to the Oakland A’s, who won the game on a walk-off squeeze bunt with two outs.
Mike Hogart, who was simply being his ho-hum Hogie self as the rest of the Butte Central coaches prepared for war before a football game, came up to me as if he was offering condolences.
“I can’t believe what I saw,” Hogie said. “There were two outs, and this guy drops down a bunt down the third-base line. I yelled out ‘No … No … Nanette.'”
Hogie got me. He walked away without saying another word or showing any emotion.
“No, No, Nanette” was the name of the off, off-Broadway musical that Red Sox owner Harry Frazee produced with the money he got for selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920, launching “The Curse of the Bambino.”
Even after the Red Sox broke the curse the next year, I could still never get the best of Hogie. It is simply impossible.
When he bartended at the Vu Villa, Hogie was legendary for his response to anybody who would dare to ask him to turn up the volume on the juke box.
“What’s that?” Hogie would say. “I can’t hear you. The music is too loud.”
When I wrote a column about how much I hate the Packers before the Bears and Packers played in the NFC Championship game, Hogie could not wait to tell me how much he liked it.
“That was the best column I ever read,” Hogie said. “That should be up for a Pulitzer Prize because that was outstanding. Easily the best column ever written.
“Oh, sure,” Hogie continued, “my dad is cancelling his subscription to the paper because of it, but I thought it was great.”
Whether he was telling an injured player borrowing his truck to put plastic down so his “candy ass” won’t stick to the seat, or just sitting back with his goofy grin, Hogie always makes me laugh.
A couple of weeks ago, Hogie suffered a stroke. While doctors think he is going to be OK, he has a long road ahead of him as he begins his battle back.
Of course, word is that Hogie is cracking a joke at every turn, comforting the many people who worrying about him so much.
The world needs Mike Hogart. I can’t begin to think of this place without him. It’s hard to fathom the Butte Central sideline without that strut and the countless Hogisms to lighten the mood in the middle of what otherwise feels like World War III.
So I hope you join me in keeping Hogie close to your heart and wishing him a speedy recovery.
When he’s better maybe we could all pitch in to buy him and Mrs. Hogie a ticket to an off, off, off-Broadway play.
Just make sure they put plastic down on Hogie’s seat.
— Sportswriter Bill Foley writes a column that appears on ButteSports.com on Tuesdays. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/Foles74.