Ogden, Utah – By Jon Kasper
What a week.
Once the confetti is swept and the tuxedo returns to the closest, the greatest male athlete in Big Sky Conference history will likely relax and reflect on an amazing ride – a journey that included three other former Big Sky Conference football stars.
Sunday night in frigid Edmonton, Alberta, Dave Dickenson coached the Calgary Stampeders to the Grey Cup, the Canadian Football League’s version of the Super Bowl. With his son Cooper flanked to his right, the former Montana Grizzly hoisted and pumped the silver trophy high above his head.
On Tuesday, there was a parade back home in Calgary. Thousands flocked downtown to celebrate the Stamps’ latest triumph. Dickenson was again front and center, wearing a cowboy hat. Mayor Naheed Neshi joked of renaming the Bow River, which snakes through Calgary, “Bo Levi Mitchell River,” in honor of the former Eastern Washington gunslinger who completed 24-of-36 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns in the 27-16 win over the Ottawa RedBlacks.
Mitchell, a Texas native who led Eastern Washington to the 2010 FCS National Championship and won the Walter Payton Award in 2011, and Dickenson have become Alberta’s dynamic duo. Mitchell and Dickenson currently are the only two people to have led their teams to FCS national championships, been awarded the Walter Payton Award as the top player in FCS football, and win the Grey Cup as the starting quarterback.
Mitchell has been named the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player twice in the last three years. There is talk he may give the NFL a shot next season. Dickenson has a gaudy 41-11-2 record in three seasons as the Stamps’ head man.
“Man, Dave’s not talked about enough in the right way,’’ Mitchell said. “That’s the greatest coach I’ve ever been around.’’
Both the 2016 and 2017 seasons ended with stunning losses in the Grey Cup, making Sunday night’s victory especially sweet.
“I wanted this bad,’’ Dickenson said in the postseason interview on live TV. “I don’t know if I ever wanted a game any worse.’’
Dickenson couldn’t have won without Mitchell, or two other former Big Sky student-athletes, Montana State linebacker Alex Singleton and Sacramento State defensive back Brandon Smith.
Singleton, a 2014 All-Big Sky linebacker and the 2017 CFL Defensive Most Outstanding Player, registered a team-high eight tackles. His sister and biggest fan Ashley, who was born with Down Syndrome, shared a long embrace with her brother as he told her he loved her to the delight of the television audience in Canada and the United States. Then, Singleton took a victory lap on “Quick Six,’’ the Stampeders’ white gelding, and later lifted the Grey Cup with Ashley.
“That was pretty cool,’’ Singleton told the media on Monday. “She was happy it wasn’t too heavy.”
Let’s not forget Smith, the grizzled 34-year-old. A mainstay in Calgary for a decade, Smith helped secure a semifinal win over Winnipeg with a late interception. The off-season accountant won his third Cup in six tries.
“We were a determined group – and that’s the most dangerous,’’ Smith said. “In the past, we came in expecting to win. This year, we knew we had to fight for it, so we can in to fight for it.’’
Clearly, it was not a bad start to the week. It only gets better for Dickenson, his wife Tammy, Cooper and daughter Avery. This coming Monday, Dickenson will be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame at a ceremony in New York City, the final and most prestigious accolade in honor of his illustrious playing career at Montana. The ceremony will be streamed on ESPN3 starting at 6:30 p.m. Mountain.
The three-time Big Sky Offensive MVP has already been inducted into the Grizzly Hall of Fame and the CFL Hall of Fame. As a quarterback for Calgary and the B.C. Lions, Dickenson was the CFL Most Outstanding Player, a Grey Cup champion, and still holds the league career mark for highest passer efficiency rating. He’s been graced with nicknames like “Super Dave” and the “Legend of the Fall.’’ His high school in Great Falls, Mont., who he led to a pair of state championships, retired his No. 15, as did Montana. Monday’s enshrinement will be the pinnacle of a career that has radiated greatness.
Just 0.02 percent of college football players are inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Dickenson will become just the fourth player to have played in the Big Sky enshrined, joining Frank Hawkins (Nevada), John Friesz (Idaho) and Randy Trautman (Boise State).
This year’s class includes former players Paul Palmer (Temple), Matt Stinchcomb (Georgia), Calvin Johnson, (Georgia Tech), Trevor Cobb (Rice), Kerry Collins (Penn State), Dana Howard (Illinois), Ed Reed (Miami), Aaron Taylor (Nebraska), Charles Woodson (Michigan), and former coaches Frank Beamer, Mack Brown, and Mel Tjeerdsma.
Earlier this year, Dickenson returned to Montana for an on-campus salute celebrating the Hall of Fame inclusion. The Grizzlies wore throwback copper jerseys, the same color Dickenson wore at Montana.
“I feel like I’m representing our team, our university, the state of Montana,’’ Dickenson said to the media in Missoula last fall. “I hope people are proud. Did I ever think I was going to get in? No. I had this dream though that it might happen. I’ve always told my players, you’re going to be a part of history regardless. Make sure it’s positive. Make sure it’s the mark you want. We write our own story.’’
This remarkable week is only part of the story, a tale that is far from finished.