By Mick Holien
Some folks are single hitters, others easily bound into second while the near top of the class occasionally connect on a triple but in rare case the cream on the top propels them to cross the plate and register scoreboard counters.
More often or not that was Butte’s Sam Jankovich, honored Saturday with induction into the Montana Football Hall of Fame followed by an invitation only Sunday reception at the Butte Civic Center.
From modest roots not only did the affable Jankovich claim a trio of National Football Championships at Miami, he rose to the NFL pinnacle as President & General Manager of the New England Patriots.
I first crossed swords with Sam sometime in the seventies when area coaches would journey to the Shack Restaurant on W, Third St. in the Lilac City for a weekly noon sports confab called SWABS (Sportswriters & Broadcasters).
When I had the opportunity to get a spot among the well wishers I shared how my love for the Cougars surfaced when I climbed the fence to get into Memorial Stadium to idolize Washington State and other then Pac-Six players, he was quick to point out just why guys like Gale Cogdill, late of the Lions, Don Ellingson, Ted Cano and Bobby Newman toil against the likes of O.J. Simpson, Jim Plunkett and the like.
Because the then-WSC administration saw Spokane as better value than Pullman, Memorial Stadium (now Albi) was home court for the hapless Cougars, he said that was why they weren’t competitive.
That disadvantage “home” field was the reason, he grumbled as he pointed his walker around the floor of the Billings Hotel Convention Center.
To say he has credibility doesn’t do the 93-year-old Jankovich his due.
He won a pair of state football championships at Butte High after graduating from Missoula then known as MSU.
After a football stint under Jim Sweeney in Bozeman the pair went to Pullman for a four year billet as defensive coordinator, a job he left to become an assistant AD and four years later moved to the head job.
Continuing up the ladder with a subsequent move to Miami just in time for the Hurricanes to begin their extended domination and not just on the gridiron.
The New England move was less successful prompting his move to Vegas as president-general manager with an Arena League franchise.
While his voice trembled a bit – he is 93 – he spoke proudly of his Butte heritage and upbringing, the value of education and the place sports plays in everyone’s life.
Casey Fitzsimmons was close but Sam might well have been the speech of the night…just sayin’