Thinking of Pat Kearney as Bobcats head to title game

Butte Central pulled out a 21-20 victory over Belgrade on a rainy September night in 2005 in Belgrade.

Jake Stagnoli hit Shaughn McKeon for a 16-yard touchdown pass with 22 seconds left to tie the game at 20 with 22 seconds left to play.

Sophomore Matt Ritter lined up to kick the extra point, and KOPR play-by-play man Pat Kearney was playing up the drama like Brent Musberger on steroids.

It was raining and wet, so the short kick was no gimme. Kearney, though, made it sound like a 50-yarder into a hurricane.

As Ritter kicked, Kearney yelled, “And the kick is up.” Then the legendary Butte sports voice paused for dramatic affect.

John Johnston was Kearney’s unpolished color man, and he did not get the memo about playing up the drama. Johnston quickly, and without a hint of theatrics, let the cat out of the bag when he muttered, “It’s good.”

You could almost hear Kearney stare at his sidekick as his play-by-play pause lingered on.

Pat acted as if his partner never said a word. Then, as if he was calling the World Cup soccer final, he yelled, “It’s goooooooooooood.”

The win, which lifted the Maroons to 3-1, came just six days after BC dropped a 3-0 home heartbreaker to Billings Central.

It was a huge win and a huge extra point, as Kearney’s call indicated. Every dog within a 5-mile radius of a radio could have told you that.

Pat Kearney made every game seem big. He made the big games seem like world championships. That was the beauty of a man we lost way too soon.

As we close in on Saturday’s NCAA FCS National Championship football game, Kearney is the one man that I have been thinking about the most. He would be going absolutely crazy about the Montana State Bobcats.

Kearney loved the Bobcats. He loved them even more when they had Butte players leading the way. You think Tommy Mania is crazy now with Butte freshman Tommy Mellott taking over the Bobcats for the playoff run?

Just imagine if Kearney was around to talk about it.

KBOW Overtime is a sports radio show that was started by Paul Panisko and Ron Davis in 2007. I have been lucky to be on the show, which we broadcast live every Wednesday from the Metals Sports Bar and Grill, since Day 1.

For the first seven years, the show featured a “Spotlight on History” segment by Kearney, a co-founder of the Butte Sports Hall of Fame.

Sometimes it was Pat putting the events of the day into a context of history. Other times it was just reminding us all of something great.

Kearney had an unmistakable delivery that kind of sounded like Kermit the Frog. When he got so excited during a game — or maybe a good argument — you could not always understand exactly what he was saying.

He just could not help it.

His Spotlights, though, were flawless, and they told us so much.

Each week, Kearney would go into the Butte Broadcasting studio hours before the show and record his segment, which would run 3 to 5 minutes. At first, he would bring in, at most, a little Post-it Note with a couple of reminders as he talked into the microphone, mostly off the top of his head.

After we started ButteSports.com in 2012, Kearney started typing out his entire segment, and we posted it on the website.

Kearney’s last Spotlight came shortly before he died suddenly of a heart attack in October of 2014. Fittingly, he wrote and talked about the Montana State Bobcats.

Specifically, it was about the 1984 NCAA Division I-AA national champion Montana State football team.

“The fall of 1984 provided football fans with one of the most amazing stories of all time,” Kearney began under the headline “Bobcats party like it was 1984.”

Kearney gave a rundown of that magical season when the Bobcats went from 1-10 in 1983 to on top of the world in 1984, and that championship team was about to be honored during MSU’s homecoming celebration.

“For any MSU Bobcat fan who saw the amazing performance of a team that came out of nowhere to win it all will cherish to honor such a brilliant feat,” Kearney closed. “Bobcats fans will all be singing ‘I’ll want to be partying again like it was 1984,’ a blue and gold football treasure.”

(You can read his entire piece here.)

You could hear just a little bit more excitement in his voice when he mentioned Kelly Davis. That’s because Davis was a Butte High track and football legend before he caught a key touchdown pass in MSU’s semifinal win over Rhode Island.

The Bobcats were a very big deal for Kearney, and he was a big deal to them. While Pat did a remarkable job being objective when he wrote a book about the Montana-Montana State football rivalry, which he called the “Divide War,” he was unquestionably a Bobcat.

Pat went to every Montana State home game — even in the lean years — and he watched from the press box.

It does not take much of an imagination to picture how excited Pat would be about the latest version of the Bobcats, who inserted Mellott into the starting lineup after a loss at Montana and rolled off three playoff wins.

He would definitely be making the trip to Frisco, Texas for Saturday’s championship game against North Dakota State. I just wish I could hear his Spotlight on History leading up to the game.

You better believe he would have talked about Davis and Joe Bignell catching passes from Kelly Bradley in 1984. He would have pointed out that Butte High graduate Zach Peters was also a member of that team.

Pat would have talked about Butte Central graduate Paul Dennehy leading the Bobcats to the 1976 national championship. He would have talked about Mellott being the first MSU starting quarterback since Barry Sullivan, who quarterbacked the Butte High Bulldogs to the 1977 Class AA state championship.

Without question, Kearney would have pointed out that Mellott is not the first Butte freshman to start at quarterback in a college national championship game.

Ritter did it in the NAIA ranks for Carroll College in 2008.

Kearney would have talked about Sonny Holland and Sonny Lubick, a pair of Butte guys who led the Bulldogs. He surely would have pointed out that Sonny Holland is the greatest Bobcat of all.

He probably would have noted that in 1984, a 27-year-old Bruce Parker was the sports information director at Montana State. Pat would have talked about how Bruce, who passed away this past year, has the best seat in the house for the championship game.

Kearney would have talked about Mellott’s grandfather, the great Gene Fogarty, who also passed away this past year. He would have articulately described the poetic beauty of Coach Fogarty playing a key role in yet another football great from the Mining City.

If he was still around, Kearney would make Saturday’s championship game appearance an even bigger deal than it already is. He would make it a better experience for players and fans alike.

Saturday will mark the biggest Montana State game since the Bobcats beat Louisiana Tech in the NCAA Division 1-AA national championship game Dec. 15, 1984 in Charleston, South Carolina.

When Mellott scores his first touchdown, whether it is a run or a pass, do not be surprised if you hear a high-pitched voice that sounds kind of like Kermit the Frog echoing from Montana to Texas.

It will probably be yelling, “It’s goooooooooooood.”

— Bill Foley, who is much more Johnny Johnston than Pat Kearney when he is on the radio, 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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