We're back to WR and back to Borah for today's installment. I was working at the Nampa Albertson's in '71 when I first heard of Mike, 2 years before he stepped on Bronco field as a Bronco (he'd already been on as a Lion). Like his fellow Borah grad WR Don Hutt, Mike was an RB in high school. I was working with Mike Holtry, a D-lineman for Nampa High, who was talking about the challenge of facing him, and mentioned his nickname, "Motormouse", due to his high energy running style. I had not seen the cartoon so didn't get the ref at the time. Alas for my co-worker, it didn't work out well; as he himself later described it, "Holton was up my (bw) all night".
Hutt and Holton shared the single season TD mark (13) for decades until Austin Pettis broke it. The similarities end there; Hutt was a big dude, while Mike was around 5'8" (maybe) and I doubt weighed 170 lbs IN his uniform, soaking wet, with his pockets full of ballbearings. Probably not highly recruited, if at all. In the great Boise State tradition that still holds, we worked with what we had, and often worked local. But Mike was a "real deal" athlete. Everett Carr mentioned him, along with Terry Hutt and John Smith, as the best athletes he ever played with at Boise State. I ran into Mike a couple of times at Lucky Peak; forget 6-pack, his "washboard" had its own "cheese grater". He was one of the trio of "Mighty Mites"("smurfs" were a decade or so away) in '74-75; the others were Jon Crabtree and Bruce Pooley, all of them more than a foot shorter than the tallest Bronco (Ron Franklin). With his Roger Daltry-like-looks (vocalist for The Who, for younger NUGies), blonde "Afro" in the fashion, he was perfect for the mid-70s.
He played with Don's brother Terry who I GAZETTA'd a while ago. They would challenging each other running laps AFTER practice, and it showed. He had stamina, and he needed it. Recall, this was before the "5 yard" rule; WRs were "ends", almost part of the O-ine. They would get pounded anywhere, all the time. Plus "slants' back then were "look-ins", fired almost straight at the LBs who would acknowledge the "honor" by destroying the WR who caught it. Mike was up to it. Plus "jam" him and you'd find out quickly 1) he's very tough and 2) he's very fast. I already mentioned one stat, here's some more: 21 career TDs; 64 receptions in 1974; 252 receivng yards vs. UNLV same year; 1,080 receiving yards in '74; 11 100+ yard games career; 139 career receptions; 2354 career yards. He had a 32.6 per catch average versus Montana in '75 (5 catches for 163 yards).
My best memory? In '75 we played Cal-Poly here. Mustangs were always a good, even great game, and this was the best one. Mike had on his green Borah stretch socks he always wore (field judge either didn't notice or didn't care). Poly had an All Coast LB they were using to cover Mike a lot, along with a safety who'd roll over, in effect triple teaming him. We were down with :28 seconds left and needed a TD. I recall we were across midfield, maybe at the Poly 40+ yard line or so. Mike told QB Greg Stern "I can beat this guy", referring to the All Coast dude. Greg was a good QB, but not super accurate; Mike was going to have to have get some "air" to make this work. and boy did he. I don't know if he'd been "ghosting" Poly all game, but he hit a gear that was unreal. It was a mere "vanilla" post pattern,sort of a "banana" route into the end zone, made a' la' Cordon Bleu by his full throttle nostril-flaring head-slapping burn-ya' speed. It wasn't even close.Stern just fired it into the end zone; Mike was the only one there who could have caught it, and did.
My weltanshauung in '75 hadn't developed to the point that I would be able to place this game in the overall context of Bronco history I relate here. Indeed, it would not have occurred to me that 36 years later I'd be writing to an audience about it. But now I revisit that game a lot. We had other great wins in the day, many exciting ones, but that game is one of a cherished few that my psyche has burnished and burnished over the years until its recollection morphs into a near fantasy, indistinguishable in some respects from a dream. My friend and I were actually walking out, hoping to beat the traffic, when that play happened. In my mind, the crowd is on the field, a luminous haze surrounds us, Stern is going back, fires, then ERUPTION! MIKE HAS IT!, holds ball aloft, takes a leisurely stroll with it, insouciantley tosses it to the ref as his teammates ecstatically rush toward and surround him. Not even sure it played out like that at all, but now that is how it is now enshrined in my mind.
In S. E. Hinton's "The Outsiders" a dying Johnny says to Pony Boy "Stay gold". He's referring to Robert Frost's poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay", and he's exhorting him to stay with his dreams, his hopes-stay young, I know nothing about what happened to Mike, haven't seen or heard of him in decades, but I hope he stayed gold. Gold, the color of the sunrise, fits my memory of Mike, just as orange, the color of the sunset, fits me. It brings some peace to return to the gold as the shadows darken,expand, and, later, but inevitably, coalesce.