LARAMIE, Wyo. -
The opening game is always exciting, and the anticipation is even greater when there's a new coach roaming the sideline.
Saturday at 2 p.m. Mountain Time the Craig Bohl era officially begins. While spring ball, summer conditioning and fall camp are important, for Bohl and his Cowboys, Saturday is finally the real thing. I know there will be a lot of Cowboys, a lot of Cowboy fans, and maybe even the head coach himself who won't get a whole lot of sleep Friday night.
This season opener is going to be a little different from the 117 previous Cowboy openers, and that difference centers on the head coach. Since the "modern era" of Cowboy football, which began with Bowden Wyatt back in 1947, there haven't been any new coaches enter their first game in the Brown and Gold with as much experience, savvy and success under their collective belts as Bohl. This will be his 12th season- opening game as a head coach. Of course he experienced 11 previous openers as head man during his incredible run at North Dakota State. Bottom line is, he's been there, and he's gotten the job done.
Despite all that, I would imagine he will be a very anxious man when he and the Cowboys take Jonah Field for their battle with border rival Montana. Cowboy fans will be anxious as well. There hasn't been this much anticipation for a Cowboy season to begin in a long, long time.
Everyone is hungry for success. When Dana Dimel left in 1999, he was the last Cowboy head coach to leave with a winning record. Everyone is looking for Bohl to change all that. He knew that when he took the job--he's a tremendous fit by the way--and he has welcomed the challenge.
Wyoming's new head coaches since Wyatt have experienced a variety of career openers: three of them--Wyatt, Dimel, and Vic Koenning--opened on the road and lost; three others -Fred Akers, Dennis Erickson and Joe Tiller--lost their season-opener at home; and the other eight--Phil Dickens, Bob Devaney, Lloyd Eaton, Fritz Shurmur, Pat Dye, Al Kincaid, Paul Roach and Dave Christensen--won their opening game.
Wyatt lost at Arizona, Dimel at Ohio State and Koenning at Auburn. Those were probably the toughest openers for any new Wyoming head coach. Devaney beat Kansas State and Dye beat Oregon State in their very first Wyoming game, both home games, against schools one would consider "national" opponents.
Only one Wyoming head coach has ever opened his Brown and Gold career with a conference opponent. That coach was Paul Roach, and his opening day was memorable. Not only had he not been a head coach, but he was 58 years old, and as UW's Athletics Director had selected himself to lead the football program. Throw in rival Air Force as the opponent at War Memorial Stadium and you have a most interesting storyline. (Bill Lewis also opened his career at Wyoming with the Falcons in 1977, but Air Force was not yet a league opponent.)
The question was, how would this guy do while getting his first head-coaching opportunity at the tender age of 58? It didn't take long for everyone to find out. It was Sept. 5, 1987, and Air Force was a big favorite to knock off the Pokes. Along with Brigham Young, the Falcons were one of the favorites to win the Western Athletic Conference title. In a game in which they were big underdogs, Roach's Cowboys throttled AFA, 27-13. In fact they put the game away early, leading at halftime 20-0. Names that would define the Roach Era came up big in that very first game.
On offense, quarterback Craig Burnett threw for 253 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Bill Hoffman caught eight balls, running back Gerald Abraham rushed for 94 yards. Defensively linebacker Galand Thaxton and safety Rich Miller each posted 11 tackles while linebacker Mike Schenbeck made 10 and defensive tackle Jeff Knapton had nine. How about those great Cowboy names!
It took three years for anyone in the WAC to beat a Roach-led Cowboy team. He won his first 16 league games in a row!
Bohl will be the second new head coach to open his era against the University of Montana. Lloyd Eaton opened his Wyoming career on Sept. 15, 1962, against the Grizzlies. During the late 1950's and early 1960's the Pokes opened a number of seasons against Montana at the "neutral" site of Billings. Wyoming Athletics Director Red Jacoby scheduled those games to give Poke fans in the northern part of the state an opportunity to watch their team without the long drive to Laramie.
Lloyd's opener against Montana was typical of the rivalry in those days, a tough, grind-it-out battle. It was warm on that mid-September day, 79 degrees. Neither team even threatened to score until late in the second quarter when running back Dave Madia "blasted" over the right side of the line for a five-yard touchdown. The extra point was missed, and the Cowboys led the game by a 6-0 score. That score held up until the final three minutes of the game when they scored their second touchdown on an 11-yard pass from quarterback Bruce Wright to wingback Mike Walker. Soccer-style kicker George Squires converted on the extra point. The Pokes won it, 13-0 before 8,100 fans. That opener was part of a five-game stretch for the Pokes during which they did not allow a point to Montana.
That was then, this is now. Montana is a much different outfit than it was then. The school has built a highly-successful football program. Montana home games at Washington-Grizzly Stadium are now routinely sold out. Last year's Griz went 10-3, and they have 14 starters returning from that squad. Needless to say, this edition should be the best matchup in the history of this 14-game series that dates back to 1951. Wyoming has not lost in the previous 13 games. This is the second meeting between the two in Laramie. There have been four in Missoula and six in Billings.
The Pokes have won 64 percent of their season openers--that includes home and away--and 76 percent of their season-opening games at home.
The circumstances of this opener are shaping up to create a very special day. I think you're going to want to be in War Memorial Stadium come 2 p.m. Saturday.
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