BOZEMAN — My sole moment in time with one Bobby Hauck came in the summer of 2005, the day after the official start of his third season on his first go-round as Montana’s head football coach.
Hauck was eight months removed from taking the Griz to the national championship game, but the Missoula native’s enduring legacy was just beginning to unfurl, for better and for worse. I was 11 months removed from packing my modern-day Conestoga wagon and moving to the Last Best Place, armed with a fly rod and an arsenal of Norman Maclean’s most memorable lines (Buster wants to fish!).
As the somewhat newly minted sports editor of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, I had one Brawl of the Wild under my belt. I also had a creel full of Hauck’s gleefully dismissive attitude toward the state’s Land Grant institution, routinely recounted to me through the gritted teeth of Montana State alums.
The chip on their shoulders already was Volkswagen-sized from 16 consecutive losses suffered from 1986-2001. It was further burdened by their image of Hauck smirking as he ignored them from on high, reeking with hubris.
Hauck had made a point of refusing to allow the Griz to bunk in Bozeman the night before the big game, instead sequestering his teams over the pass in Livingston. There, he was merely a long field goal from Big Timber, where he had been a three-sport high school standout and as early as third grade tormented his Bobcat teachers by sliding taunting maroon notes under their classroom doors.
Hauck would sooner extract his wisdom teeth with rusted pliers than utter his rival by name or nickname. The shun was infuriating for MSU fans from the get-go, when he gave The School That Shall Not Be Named precisely zero credit after it beat the Griz in his debut season.
More than once fellow Gallatin Valley media warned me that Hauck wouldn’t throw a Bozeman reporter a lifeline in churning rapids, much less grant a one-on-one interview to a member of the evil sub-empire.
It was against this backdrop in August 2005 that my daughter and I planned a prospecting trip to Missoula to consider UM for college, though she already was a strong Washington State lean. Purely as a lark, I called longtime friend Dave Guffey, the veteran UM sports publicist, to see if Hauck might briefly peel back the Maroon Curtain to wax about life as the Great Football Satan to half the state.
To my amazement, he agreed without caveat.
To my further amazement, he was, as I later wrote in a column tinged with incredulity, full of humor, easygoing and “as engaging as your favorite uncle.” As I motioned my daughter to wait outside, Hauck instead beckoned her into his office, where he leaned back in his chair and gave her a riveting recruiting pitch for UM while playfully tweaking WSU’s penchant for “Coug’n it”.
My mission, I soon made plain, was to get to the root of his antipathy toward — dare I say it? — MSU. After all, wasn’t the sheep-herding ag country around Big Timber, where his dad, Bob, had been a teacher and coach, mostly Bobcat country?
“First, I like to think everywhere in the state of Montana is Grizzly country,” he countered with an impish grin, before adding: “And, I’m a third-generation alum.”
Hauck proceeded to point out that his grandfather, father, brother Tim, uncle, 16 cousins “and most of their parents” all attended UM. He allowed that perhaps one cousin had gone astray.
“We don’t talk about him much,” he said, feigning disheartedness.
As I also wrote, mindful that on the sidelines he always looked as if he was sucking on lemons, I found myself thinking, “Who is this guy and what have you done with Bobby Hauck?”
The interview wound down and Hauck skillfully tap-danced around every opening to offer Bobcat faithful an olive branch. At long last, as the conversation turned back to Big Timber, he acknowledged with a grudging wink that, “obviously, growing up in that neck of the woods, I had a lot of friends who were …”
“… MSU alums.”
I archived it as the upset of the year, and it was only August. Similarly, Hauck nearly persuaded my daughter to flip to UM, and she might have on the spot were it not for the prestige of WSU’s sports-management program.
A couple weeks later, Hauck sent me a card on which he wrote something to the effect of it how “it was nice to see someone having fun with all this.”
Meanwhile, if Hauck was The Great Football Satan in Bobcat-landia then I became the Prince of Darkness for depicting him as, well, human. One reader vowed to reconfigure my anatomy from throat to intestines.
Given how polarizing his almost-certain second tour of the sidelines at Wa-Griz already is, my second moment in time with Hauck may not be so breezy.
Then again, if there’s one thing I learned on that summer afternoon 12 years ago, with Bobby Hauck what you see — or what you think you see — isn’t necessarily what you get.