January 8, 2018

Dickenson in elite company

Dave Dickenson playing QB for the Montana Grizzlies (Photo supplied by Montana Athletics)

In his day, whether in helmet or headset, Dave Dickenson has been part of some pretty fine teams.

But this one …

This one can’t be touched.

Just take a deep breath and gawk at that lineup sheet: Knute Rockne, Jim Thorpe and Red Grange, Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus and Woody Hayes, Bob Griese, Bear Bryant and Lynn Swann, Earl Campbell, Walter Payton and Dan Marino.

For starters.

And as of Monday, count Dickenson among their number.

Around Montana, of course, over two decades removed from his exploits at UM, he’s still known as Super Dave or The Legend of the Fall.

That notoriety is only going to grow with news that the bookish kid from Great Falls who went on to achieve state-wide icon status has become the first University of Montana Grizzly to to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.

“You always hope that there’s chance,’’ conceded Dickenson, who led the school to a I-AA National Championship in 1995 and finished his career on campus with 13,486 yards passing.

“I thought maybe I had chance,’’ says the Stampeders head coach. “Maybe not a good chance. But a chance.

“It’s amazing. It really is. But I’m proud mostly because of the Montana angle. It’s cool that the NCAA will honour different levels. Because let’s be honest, I’ve never had the athletic skills like some of these other guys. But we did some pretty good things, had great teams.

“So for them to look at some of the smaller schools, give those athletes the chance to get into the Hall of Fame, I’m certainly very thankful.”

Photo supplied by Montana Athletics

Momentum for Dickenson to be considered began five years ago, beginning with his brother Craig and the realization that the university had to nominate potential candidates.

Incoming UM SID Eric Taber wanted to push the idea harder.

“There’s nothing I could do except cross my fingers,’’ says Dickenson. “I knew I was on the ballot. You’ve got to get on the ballot first.

“Then a friend of mine, Matt Wells, he played receiver for us (at Montana) and is a bigwig at a financial company in the midwest, runs into Archie Manning. Archie Manning is the main guy with the College Football Hall of Fame. Anyway, Archie says to my friend: ‘We looked at Dave last year. I’m going to have to do a little more research on Dave.’

“So it kinda felt to me like there were a few people in my corner. When a guy like Archie Manning says: ‘I know Dave. We looked at him hard.’ Da, da, da … that gave me a little more hope.

“But then you see the guys you’re going up against. I’m a huge Eric Dickerson fan. And he didn’t get in this year.”

The laurels Dickenson has accumulated on both sides of the border are many, and distinguished: The ’95 Walter Payton Award at UM, 2000 CFL MOP, four-time Grey Cup champion, 2016 Annis Stukus Trophy as the CFL coach of the year, CFL Hall of Fame induction in in 2015. His Grizzlies jersey number, 15, has been retired. In ’99, Sports Illustrated slotted him 12th among all Montana athletes and also in 2013 he was chosen as the top male athlete in the history of the Big Sky Conference.

Monday’s honour, though, surely ranks at the top of a very prestigious list.

“I wasn’t even sure I was going to be good enough to play college ball,’’ he confesses. “I went to Montana because I thought I had a chance.

“I fought hard my sophomore year and wound up winning the job a couple games in. I was lucky because just at that time our program really took off and we capped it off with a national championship in 1995.

“To be honest, not many people in my day went to Montana in order to make the NFL or reach the Hall of Fame. It was more like ‘Let’s go to college, do something we love and get our school paid for.’ I love Missoula, liked being close to home and tried to do something special for the local Montana people.

“College shaped me. I think my competitive spirit, my will to win, is right up there with the best of them. But everything else, I’m not just not on par with most of the guys I played against. And yet still found away to have success and keep going from there.”

The high-water mark, undoubtedly, arrived on, at the championship game on Dec. 16, 1995, the underdog Grizzlies topping the hometown Marshall Thundering Herd 22-20 at Edwards Stadium in Huntington, W. Va.

“I was hurt,’’ recalls Dickenson. “Shoulda been a precursor of what was going to happen in the pros, I guess. Anyway, I had a shoulder injury, my throwing arm, and I was trying all this voodoo to get it in shape. I remember rubbing some DMSO, a liniment for horses only, on.

“I just felt we weren’t respected at all. We were taunted. We were on their turf, 32,000 or so in the stands. I remember saying at the press conference after the game: ‘We didn’t come here not to win.’

“I think I got sacked like 11 times. I took a beating. We converted a fourth-and-two and then brought a freshman kicker out and he made the field goal and they only had 20-some seconds left and couldn’t get anything done.

“Great game. Great year. Great team.”

Not quite as great, sorry, as the team Dave Dickenson joined Monday.

A team that features Sammy Baugh, Bronko Nagurski and George Gipp, Johnny Unitas, Deion Sanders and Jimmy Johnson, Art Shell, Art Monk and LaDainian Tomlinson.

“Amazing,’’ repeats one of the 2018 recruits. “You’re just kind of speechless.

“I’m a stat guy. I’ve always followed the game, collected football cards, cherish the history, respect the players who came before me.

“Tradition is important to me. And to be included in that kind of company …

“Makes this even more special.”