Bobcat coach a born 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 third-year head coach runs crimson when asked to recount some of his fondest childhood grid memories.

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 1965 Cardiac Kids beating three Big Ten teams on the road in nail-biting fashion is an indelible imprint on his football mind 37 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, Green Bay Packer Hall of Famer 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 birth rite.

So Kramer knows well the talent disparity between Pac-10 and Big Sky conference football. He'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.

A year ago as he prepared his club for a Thursday night tiff in Pullman, Kramer said his club "had a one in 100,000 chance of winning."br>
The lackluster Cougars won 53-28, but the Bobcats put up a great fight, racking up nearly 700 yards in offense and kick returns.

The relative strength of the two teams appears about the same going into this Saturday's 2 pm rematch.

But you can bet the Cougars will have to fight for every yard again. 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.

A year ago the Bobcats went 5-6 and finished third in the Big Sky. Not spectacular, but considering that they had lost 17 straight coming into the campaign it speaks directly to Kramer's mojo. The ‘Cats are 2-1 so far this year and most observers expect them to finish above .500.

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

Now comes a showdown with the No. 16 team in the land --- a team that looked like a world beater for one-half last week in one of the most daunting venues college football has to offer while the Bobcats were tangling with Division II Adams State.

But whether your State is Adams, Ohio, Washington or Montana, football is football and autumn Saturdays are all the better for it.

. And you just know there's a kid in Lacrosse, Dayton, Garfield -- or maybe even Colton -- who will think Saturday's mismatch is 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.

KEY MATCH UP: WSU's defensive line vs. MSU's offensive line. The Cougars are on another record pace for sacks, while Bobcats hosses are considered so-so pass blockers.

FAMOUS BOBCATS ALUMS: MSU's alumni list includes Dennis Erickson, Joe Tiller, NFL Hall of Fame kicker Jan Stenerud and Bill Kollar, a long-time NFL player and assistant coach. In addition, former Cougar head coach Jim Sweeney was the Bobcats' skipper before coming to Pullman in the late 1960s.

FAMOUS MONTANA COUGARS: The state of Montana hasn't produced a ton of Cougars over the years, but the ones who have ventured West have been dandy. Ryan Leaf (Great Falls) is the most celebrated, but there also was standout QB Ty Paine (Billings) from the early 1970s and All-Pac-10 running back Kerry Porter (Great Falls) --- the P in the RPM offense --- from the 1980s. Two current Cougars hail from Montana --- QB Matt Kegel (Havre) and LB Doc Farley (Hamilton).

TV: No live coverage, but Fox Sports Northwest will air a replay of the WSU-MSU game Sunday morning at 10 PT.

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