Editor's note: Montana is rich in sporting history and so from time to time this summer we'll revisit some of the state's most memorable moments. Today: When Hall of Fame coach Glenn "Pop" Warner brought his Iowa State football team to Butte.
BUTTE — Glenn "Pop" Warner didn't become a football coaching legend by lacking confidence, ingenuity and a dash of hubris.
So it was no surprise to anyone in September 1895 when Warner bet his entire $150 paycheck that his Iowa Agricultural College (now Iowa State) team would easily win its unorthodox season opener against a bunch of burly Butte Athletic Club working stiffs in Butte, Montana.
Warner expected to have a strong squad that fall, after all. And he figured a Butte team comprised mostly of miners and blacksmiths would be no match for the cerebral college boys from Ames.
But Warner apparently neglected several mitigating factors entering his first game as a head coach in what would become a Hall of Fame career.
He couldn't possibly anticipate missing the last Union Pacific passenger train after the drive from Ames to Omaha, Nebraska, and having instead to ride a mail train that would be stranded in a Wyoming blizzard and run out of "victuals".
He couldn't have prepared for Marcus Daly's loamy Athletic Field being "as devoid of grass as a glacier" due to fumes from the ore smelter, a surface not conducive to offensive prowess at a time when snaps had to be bounced or rolled to the quarterback. He couldn't have imagined anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 rowdy miners and even cheerleaders firing pistols into the air any time they felt the urge to express their pleasure — or displeasure — at the events on the field.
He also wasn't ready — though perhaps he should have been — for a little home cooking from a local referee named W.H. Armstrong, who conjured up inventive ways to prevent the Cardinals (soon to be Cyclones) from scoring when they threatened to overtake the home team.
Above all, he wasn't aware many of those miners and blacksmiths also had played football for Michigan, Harvard and other eastern powerhouses — comprising a squad that in some circles is thought to be the greatest Montana football team ever assembled.
Final score: Butte A.C. 12, Iowa Agricultural College 10.
According to Jared Larson of SB Nation's Iowa State website "Wide Right Natty Lite", the game was halted midway through the second half "due to the Ames squad walking off the field in disgust."
Though 24 years old and a year removed from his final game as a collegiate player at Cornell, Warner had inserted himself into the game at right guard in the second half to fire up his frustrated team, a legal move because Butte wasn't a collegiate team.
Per the Anaconda Standard, the walkout ensued after Butte's George W. King recovered a fumble and Warner held King's face into the sand in what the paper described as "intentionally foul play". Butte player/coach "Big" Jim Hooper, who'd feuded with Warner since the two squared off in a particularly rugged Michigan-Cornell game, lifted his adversary off Kelly and tossed him aside, tearing his jacket in the process.
"This constituted the excuse that he had been waiting for," the Standard wrote, "and he walked off the field accompanied by all the visiting players except Captain Mellinger, who made an unsuccessful effort to get them back on the field."
Said Mellinger in the moment: "I acknowledge that we are beaten, and beaten fairly, and I am willing to play the game out. I am only one against 10, and the rest of the team will not play any longer, though I have coaxed them to finish the game."
At that point, the referee representing the Iowans called the game.
The Butte Daily Post derisively labeled Warner "The Fat Boy". A month later, the Standard dubbed him "the big bootsy dub of a football player who played here with the Iowa Agricultural eleven and played the baby act in order to save the bets he had made that the Iowans would win if the game was played out."
At the time, Warner was nearly broke and still four years away from his signature tenure: 13 years building the Carlisle Indian Industrial School into a national power with a little help from one Jim Thorpe and a hidden-ball trick executed perfectly by a speedy Montanan from Wyola named Charles Dillon.
The 20 Butte players, bankrolled by mining magnate Charles Clark and many of them miners he'd hired, were no pushovers.
Playing a fall and winter season, the squad went 12-3 against some of the top clubs and colleges in the country. Attendance topped 4,000 at some games at a time when the mines were roaring and Butte was rollicking.
Hooper, a Butte native, had been a starter at Michigan and actually returned to the Wolverines after the IAC game. Captain Francis Brooks was nearly a decade removed from earning a Harvard law degree. Don Gillies, who scored the game's first TD on a 30-yard run, didn't do much more in football but he later ran steel companies and was inducted into the National Mining Hall of Fame.
The BAC football heyday lasted only five seasons, with 1895 as its zenith. In 1896, Clark withdrew his support due to issues with unions, "militia men" and "scabs", according to the Greater Northwest Football Association's website.
Three years later, Butte fielded two teams, but both disbanded after the short season as spectator interest was giving way to the local high schools and college.
As for Warner, he became the head coach at Georgia later that fall. To partially offset the loss of his $150 paycheck, he negotiated a deal to continue as a consultant with the Iowa school.
Warner did so from afar for Iowa State for three more years while simultaneously coaching at Georgia and later Cornell. He moved in 1899 to Carlisle, where he invented the three-point stance, the lateral and wingback formations, and also instituted the "hidden-ball trick", which he learned from another coach of some renown named John Heisman.
The play lasted just the one game. After Wyola's Dillon ran the length of the field for a TD against Harvard with the ball tucked into a pouch sewn on his jersey by a local tailor, Chicago coach Amos Alonzo Stagg demanded the trick be outlawed, and it was.
Warner compiled a 319-106-32 record as a coach from 1895-1938, won four national championships and remains the second-winningest college coach in history behind Paul "Bear" Bryant. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.
Soon after the 1895 game, the Standard softened its tone and wrote, "Whenever Mr. Warner returns to Butte he will be both warmly welcomed and warmly treated."
Six months later, the Standard reported that Warner wrote Hooper and said if "given the slightest degree of encouragement" he would return to Butte and try to earn a spot on the team. The paper scoffed at the idea, noting that Warner "undeniably" was a good football player, but that he "could not improve the Butte team at any position" and that, ultimately, "There is no place on the Butte team for 'Pop'."
A few years later, the city did invite Warner's Carlisle powerhouse to Butte for a game, but he refused.
In a 1928 interview with Wolf Point correspondent C.B. Marshall for the Great Falls Tribune, Warner recalled of the Butte game: "Conditions were all against us. We didn't have any idea we would run up against such a bunch of players as Butte had. We knew they had been competing with strong teams, but we didn't expect them to be as strong as they proved. There were a number on that team who had played with Harvard and other eastern colleges and knew real football."
In 1950, Butte resident Paul Kirby Hennessy wrote Warner asking what the famed coach recalled of the game.
In a December response, Warner wrote, in part: "The game was played on a field with no grass on it and because we snapped the ball or rolled in back in those days, the sandy ground bothered us a lot. When a good play was made, many of the rooters whipped out their guns and shot in the air for applause. Butte used home town officials and their decisions were SO bad."
The experience wasn't entirely forgettable, though. Speaking to the Tribune, Warner recalled platters with mounds of freshly broiled trout.
"It was the most delicious meal I ever ate," he said.
Warner never did return to The Mining City. He died in 1954 in Palo Alto, California — $150 to the poorer, thanks to a bunch of rugged miners and blacksmiths from Butte, America.