Behind the lines: Remember where you’re from

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    It’s one of my favorite coaching recollections. We had just edged Wyoming Indian in overtime in the first game ever played in the gym that now bears my friend Alfred Redman’s name. The Chiefs hammered Wind River by over 80 points the next night, and we were hosting the Cougars in Shoshoni the following week.

    As I watched the varsity teams warmup, two of the greatest ladies I’ve ever known came up to me. Fern Watson and Rosie Baker were the legendary Wind River High School cafeteria cooks. Words will never adequately describe what they could do with vegetables, potatoes, flour, chicken, and beef. Suffice it to say, incredible.


    I changed from a 33-year-old varsity basketball coach to a 17-year-old kid in an instant when I saw them. I helped them up into their seats behind our bench, but Fern wouldn’t let me go, grabbing my arm.

    “Don’t embarrass these boys tonight,” she said. “Remember where you’re from.”

    Remember where you’re from, it’s a message I tried to instill in my students for their future lives and in their brief time as amateur athletes.

    Remember where you’re from has a rich literary history as well, with hundreds perhaps thousands of authors taking on the theme.


    My favorite quote comes from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Don’t forget who you are and where you come from.”

    In today’s self-centered, “me-first” world, it’s too easy to do both.

    The announcement earlier this week that Wyoming football coach Paul Roach had passed away at age 95 brought this theme back to mind.


    It’s easy to forget that others did fabulous things before you arrived on the scene, that’s why history is so important, and one of the biggest reasons our nation is adrift. We don’t remember, recognize, or honor those who walked the path before us.

    Coach Roach has the highest winning percentage of any head football coach in Wyoming history. He was 35-15 in four years from 1987 to 1990. He was a quarterback at Dickinson High School in North Dakota, the school that shared the football field with the Dickinson State Blue Hawks that my son played for. It’s also the university that another legend, the late George Kay of KTWO Radio and TV, graduated from, yes connections.

    Coach Roach returned to take the Cowboy helm after a successful career in the NFL.


    On the way, he crossed paths many times with his friend, and another Wyoming great, Fritz Shurmur. Coach Shurmur was perhaps the greatest defensive coach the Cowboys ever had.

    Casual fans only remember his 15-29 record as head coach from 1971 to 1974 and forget the integral role he played as defensive coordinator under head coach Lloyd Eaton.

    Both Shurmur and Roach were keys in leading Wyoming to the greatest three-year stretch in school history, winning the WAC in 1966, 67, and 68, beating Florida State in the Sun Bowl, and losing a close game to LSU in the Sugar Bowl. We may never see that level of excellence again with the modern conference alignments, and media overload.

    Eaton left Wyoming under less than stellar circumstances after the Black 14 incident. It set Cowboy football back for almost a decade.

    Coach Shurmur stepped into the political morass created by Eaton’s decisions to kick off Black players asking to wear armbands to protest BYU’s racist practices at the time.

    He left after struggling in a program that was a national power just a few years before the incident, but his connection to Laramie remained strong. Many Wyoming players got a chance at the NFL because of Coach Shurmur’s behind-the-scenes influence. Shurmur had a fabulous career in the NFL, with Detroit, New England, Los Angeles, and Phoenix, and won a Super Bowl ring in 1997 as Green Bay’s defensive coordinator.

    Connections are all part of knowing who you are, and where you’re from.

    Though I wouldn’t know him for another three decades, my father-in-law worked as a radio technician with another Wyoming legend, this one the longtime football and basketball announcer, Larry Birleffi in the 1950s.

    As a high school kid, I spent many Saturdays listening to Birleffi’s play-by-play with the Cowboys while working on the farm. The volume annoyed my dad, but if I turned the radio to full I could hear the Cowboy game as we stacked third cutting hay.

    Jump ahead almost a decade, and I was an ASUW Executive working with the registrar’s office to bring computer scheduling to the UW Campus. It’s hard to believe now, but we registered with punch cards stored in boxes at tables manned by department secretaries in Half Acre Gym.

    The University of New Mexico had an established system that we went to see in action. It coincided with the final game of the 1979 season, a game I watched my buddies playing for the Cowboys lose 17-3.

    We had a great time with the kids we met in Albuquerque, but evidently not as good as Birleffi did that same night.

    As we waited to board our flight back to Denver, we spotted a very hungover Berliffi slumped in a chair next to our departure gate.

    In those days you walked across the tarmac to board aircraft, and there was no way the Wyoming announcer was going to make it up those steps.

    A young Kevin McKinney approached me and my friend Marty Wright and said, “Guys, can you help Mr. Berliffi onto the plane.”

    “Sure,” we said.

    Berliffi was able to walk, just not too steady. Each of us took an arm, supported him up the stairs, and put him into his first-class seat, then took our seats at the rear of the plane.

    We helped him off at Stapelton, but he was much better by the time we landed in Denver.

    Would any of these late Wyoming legends remember me? Not a chance, I was just another kid in the stands, but I remember them.

    That’s a big part of knowing where you’re from and who you are. You remember those who made a difference in your life, and hopefully, in the process of walking the path of life, you can do the same for those behind you.

    Remembering where you’re from is one of the best philosophies you can follow. I tried to instill it in my children, in the kids I taught, and those I coached.

    My late friend Chuck Wells epitomized the idea of knowing where you were from, he often said, “Don’t forget the Wranglers.”

    That’s true for the Cougars, Chiefs, Rams, Eagles, Tigers, and Wolverines as well.


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