Nov. 3—On March 10, 2010, I and former fellow Missoulian sports writer Nick Lockridge found ourselves at Tiny's Tavern in Billings.
We were there to cover the State AA boys basketball tournament, but when in Rome. ... you head to the establishment with the Denver Broncos motif and the best steak sandwich around.
On the TVs was ESPN's coverage of the Big Sky Conference men's basketball championship. It wasn't going well for the Montana Grizzlies: They trailed Weber State 40-20.
Then the second half started and Anthony Johnson caught fire.
That's actually an understatement: The senior guard scored 34 points after halftime, finished with a tournament-record 42, and was so dominant — he scored the Grizzlies' last 21 points in a 66-65 win — that I found myself yelling at the TV: DO NOT PASS.
The next afternoon Nick and I watched Butte beat Missoula Sentinel 43-32 in a boys basketball game. It was a good atmosphere at First Interstate Arena and the game was tense, but Johnson outscored Sentinel in one half. Amazing.
I was reminded of this when Johnson suffered a severe stroke at his daughter's birthday party on Oct. 21, in Tacoma. On Wednesday the two-time All-Big Sky selection passed away.
Married to Shaunte (Nance) since before both played hoops at UM, 18 years in all, he leaves behind his wife, three children and another on the way. He was just 37.
As I've gotten older I have lost too many contemporaries — high school and college friends — and relatives to cancer or whatever. It never doesn't shock. This one especially does. We all hoped No. 23 would rally.
On that Wednesday in 2010 I had few career prospects beyond beating the deadline the next three nights — and certainly I didn't figure I'd be sports editor of the Daily Inter Lake. Yet here we are.
It became official this week, with the departure of Katie Brown for her home state of Pennsylvania.
I'm excited and nervous and whatever other descriptives I should be thinking of and can't, and a little bummed that Miss Brown, a consummate troubleshooter and purveyor of "Huzzahs," is not around to lean on.
Since I arrived in December 2019 I've tried to help us keep a handle on a sports landscape that has added, among other things, flag football and Pioneer League baseball. I missed the grind while I was gone, and I've loved being back at it. I think my 60-year-old brain can grind a few more years.
I have enjoyed the Twitter/X battles that have sprung up recently over the Football Championship Subdivision's media poll, which is organized by Stats Perform.
Mainly, Grizzly fans are up in arms over being ranked behind Idaho (No. 4; the Vandals are No. 3) despite a 23-21 win at Moscow in October.
Once I stopped covering the Grizzlies after the 2012 season, I stopped voting in what was then The Sports Network 25. Two things stick out about the polls in those nine seasons I had the Griz football beat: Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle gave Montana a vote in the FBS Top 25, in 2009; and somewhere in there I got an email from TSN's Craig Haley questioning a team I'd voted among by top 25 in the FCS.
I think it was a bubble team out of the lightly-regarded NEC, and it doesn't matter now, but at the time I was made to defend it. After I did I got an email hoping that I'd, "take my vote seriously."
I don't miss voting now: It is what the kids these days call a "time suck." That is if you do it right. Which I'm sure Haley, who voted Idaho No. 2 and Montana No. 5 and blocked a few Griz fans this week, does.
Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 758-4463 or at email@example.com.