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THE FRONT ROW with MARK NELKE: Sports love, and all its twists and turns

The Griz (and ESPN2) are coming to Moscow on Saturday night.
And while the Idaho Vandals are the current darlings of the Big Sky Conference in football, Montana Grizzlies head coach Bobby Hauck is taking heat in his own town — from the Montana school newspaper, no less.
In an editorial titled “Tick, tock, Bobby Hauck,” The Kaimin suggested that Hauck has some work to do to earn another contract in Missoula, after the current deal expires at the end of this season.
Tough crowd.
True, the Griz are losing to Montana State on a regular basis, and haven’t made a deep run in the FCS playoffs in a while.
They’ve been to the FCS playoffs three times in Hauck’s five seasons in Stint No. 2 in Missoula. But the Griz haven’t been to the FCS championship game since 2009 — the last year of Stint No. 1 for Hauck. And they haven’t gotten as far as the semifinals since 2011.
This year, Montana is 5-1, 2-1 after a win today at UC Davis. The lone loss was at Northern Arizona.
Meanwhile, Idaho has struggled for most of the last two-plus decades.
But with the Vandals on their way last year to earning their first FCS playoff berth since returning to the Big Sky in 2018, Jason Eck was the toast of the town in his first season as Vandals coach, and Vandal fans were already wondering, “how long are we going to be able to keep him in Moscow?”
This year, the Vandals are 5-1, 3-0 and hoping to make a deep playoff run. The love affair continues.
Expectations.
AFTER FIRING my usual 66 at Circling Raven one Sunday afternoon a few years back (OK, maybe it was a few strokes higher), our group repaired to the course restaurant for a refreshment.
Dick Butkus was sitting with some folks at the next table.
Yes, the former Bears middle linebacker that Sports Illustrated once called “The Most Feared Man in the Game.”
We let him have his space — after all, more than two decades after his retirement, he still looked like he wouldn’t mind clotheslining you.
At least, that was the perception — I’m sure by then, in retirement from his football and, later, acting career, he would have been cordial with us, all those years after wreaking havoc on opposing running backs, receivers and quarterbacks for a living.
Butkus, along with the likes of Ray Nitschke and Mike Curtis, were skilled middle linebackers in their own right. But they also played in an era where quarterbacks didn’t dare run — lest they get buried into the turf, or slammed into an equipment trunk. Or worse.
Just check the clips — that’s just the way the game was played in the NFL then. During one game, when a fan ran onto the field between plays and tried to run off with the football while the teams huddled, Mike Curtis stepped up and knocked the fan to the ground.
NOWADAYS, CERTAIN quarterbacks who have no problem prancing down the middle of the field without fear of repercussion — almost taunting defenders, “You can’t touch me!” — wouldn’t have dared tried that with ‘backers like Butkus chasing them.
QBs might think twice about trying that cutesy backhand flip pass near the goal line, if they knew the moment they released the ball, a linebacker racing full speed was going to plow into their ribs and drive them into the ground.
If your favorite team has a QB that likes to run, you probably like the new rules in today’s NFL — where defenders almost trip over each other trying to avoid even breathing on the quarterback while he scrambles.
If your team doesn’t — and your rival team does — you probably love a middle linebacker like Dick Butkus.
Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 208-664-8176, Ext. 2019, or via email at mnelke@cdapress.com. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @CdAPressSports.

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