Bobcat coach born a Cougar

MIKE KRAMER didn't play ball at WSU. And his coaching career never brought him to Pullman. But the blood in the veins of Montana State's second-year head coach runs crimson when asked to recount some of his fondest football memories as a youngster.

Hugh Campbell, WSU's legendary Phantom of the Palouse, is an all-time favorite.

The big hug with mom after All-American Clancy Williams scored the winning TD in the Cougars' 29-23 season-opener against Stanford in '64 still brings a smile.

And the exploits of the Cardiac Kids beating three Big Ten teams on the road in nail-biting fashion is an indelible imprint on his football mind 36 years later.

You can take the kid out of the Palouse, it seems. But you can never take the Palouse out of the kid.

Mike Kramer grew up farming wheat just down the road from Pullman. He and his brothers and cousins helped turn Colton High into a Class B football dynasty. A couple of ‘em, including Mike, followed their famous coat-tail relative, Hall of Fame Green Bay Packer Jerry Kramer, to the University of Idaho. Another played at Notre Dame.

Football is in the Kramer blood. The fact there's no direct lineage to Rogers Field or Martin Stadium is irrelevant. When you're raised on the Palouse, you're part Cougar by birthrite.

So it's perhaps no surprise that Kramer was initially reticent about scheduling the Cougars for this Thursday night when both WSU and MSU had their respective Sept. 15 games canceled by the terrorist attacks on America.

The difference between Pac-10 and Big Sky conference football is huge. Kramer's been watching it all his life -- as a kid when the Cougars routinely beat Idaho, as a Vandal player in the early 1970s, and as a Big Sky head coach and assistant since 1983.

"We have a one in 100,000 chance of winning," Kramer says matter-of-factly of Thursday's game.

Probably right.

But the Cougars will have to earn every yard. AT MSU, like at Eastern Washington for six years prior, Kramer brings out the fight in his players -- no matter how overmatched they may be.

The fact this year's Bobcats are 4-3 overall and high atop the Big Sky at 3-0 is testament to Kramer's mojo. Like the Cougars, nobody expected much from the Bobcats, who entered the season with a 17-game losing streak.

And here they are with three straight wins, including a 48-38 slugfest over then-No. 16-ranked EWU.

Faint recollections of MSU's last national title in 1984, when Kramer was an assistant coach, are actually resurfacing from deep in the recesses of the long-suffering Bozeman faithful.

The ‘Cats have done it in balanced fashion, with 978 total yards coming on the ground and 1,064 via the air. Their top running back, Ryan Johnson, has 862 hashes and a 4.7 yard per-game average. Quarterback Tyler Thomas, a former Prosser Mustang who transferred in from Oregon State, has an efficiency rating of 107 and is covering an average of 176 yards per outing.

Now comes a regionally televised payday in Pullman against the Division I-A team ranked No. 18 in the land.

And you just know there's a kid in Lacrosse, Dayton, Garfield -- or maybe even Colton -- who will think it's the most thrilling event he ever saw. He may even give his mom a hug when Mike Bush, the Leaper of the Palouse, goes high for six.

KICKOFF: 7 p.m. Thursday. Live TV on Fox Sports Northwest. Paul Sorensen will be providing the sideline coverage.

KEY MATCH UP: WSU's defensive line vs. MSU's offensive line. The Cougars are on a near-record pace for sacks, led by D.D. Acholonu with seven, while the Bobcats have surrendered 18 so far this season.

FAMOUS FOOTBALL ALUMS: MSU's alumni list includes Dennis Erickson, Joe Tiller and NFL Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud. In addition, former Cougar head coach Jim Sweeney was the Bobcats' skipper before coming to Pullman.

THE EVERGREEN CONNECTION: Besides Tyler Thomas, the Bobcats feature a number of products from the state of Washington: DB Joey Thomas of Seattle; LB Roger Cooper of Port Orchard; LB Latrel Williams of Burien; OLs Steve Gunnels and Justin Garrett of Spokane; WR Corey Smith of Federal Way; TE Blake Wolf of Colton; WR Bassett Brandon of Colville; and LB Brandon Eggart of Cheney.

THE SERIES: The Cougs are 5-0, with the last victory orchestrated in 1993 by Mike Pattinson to the tune of 54-14. The 1985 contest between the two marked the last home game for WSU's fabled RPM backfield of Mark Rypien, Kerry Porter and Rueben Mayes. They put a 64-14 hurt on the defending Division I-AA national champion Bobcats amid frigid weather conditions.

NOTABLE NOTE: Have you noticed the all-red socks the Cougars are wearing of late? Based on a search of the sartorial archives, as near as we can tell it's been 70 years since the Cougars were red-legged. The last time was in the 1931 Rose Bowl, when Babe Hollingbery outfitted the lads in crimson from head to toe -- helmets, shoes, the whole outfit. Babe swore off the all-red look after Alabama thumped ‘em, 24-0.


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