top of page

Bill Foley


    The great philosopher Brett Favre gave Montana State football players sound advice leading up to Saturday’s FCS national championship football game in Frisco, Texas.

    In a Cameo video, the former New York Jets quarterback told the Bobcats to enjoy the moment before ticking off some names of players, including Tommy Mellott of Butte and Troy Andersen of Dillon.

    “You’ve got to soak up these memories,” Favre said. “Trust me, the next thing you know it will be 20 years down the line.”

    Those are words that the Bobcat players should definitely take heed to, even if Saturday’s game went disastrously wrong almost from the very beginning.

    They should not dwell on the fact that Mellott suffered an injury that took him out of the game early. They should not lament the unstoppable running game from the Bison or the shotty playing surface.

    Instead, the players should soak in all the memories from a great season that saw the Bobcats capture the heart of the state and even some Grizzly fans.

    The fans, too, should make sure to bask in the glory of a great season. Seasons like this, after all, are the reason we are fans in the first place.

    Favre was right, too. In a blink of an eye, it will be 20 years. Your “Touchdown Tommy” and “Tommy Football” T-shirts will have long since faded away.

    The memories, though, will still be there.

    Twenty-six years ago, I was a rabid fan on the other side of the Cat-Griz rivalry. Even though I grew up a huge Montana State fan, pretending to catch passes from quarterback Kelly Bradley in my backyard, I went to the University of Montana to earn a journalism degree.

    I made the switch to the Griz a few years before that because I realized that so many great Butte High Bulldogs were heading to UM. They were guys like Todd Ericson, Chad Lembke and Lance Allen.

    Then some members of the 1991 Butte High state championship team went to the Griz. Guys like Josh Paffhausen, Brian Toone and Randy Riley.

    When any of those guys made a big play at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, I would make a big scene from the student section.

    Paffhausen once set the UM single-game reception record just days after leaving the hospital with a fever that was off the charts. He caught a touchdown pass in the 1996 NCAA Division I-AA national championship game.

    It was Toone and Riley, though, who made the biggest play as Grizzlies.

    In fact, I will venture to say that no Butte guy has ever made a bigger play while playing football for the Grizzlies.

    Not many Grizzlies have. Period.

    Four years earlier, Toone and Riley were stars on Butte High’s undefeated Class AA state championship team. Toone was a 6-2, 212-pound linebacker, while Riley was a 6-1, 195-pound guard on the offensive line.

    As juniors on the University of Montana defensive line, Toone was up to 6-2, 261 and climbing, while Riley was 6-3 and 230.

    On Dec. 16, 1995 in Huntington, West Virginia, the two Butte guys scored the two points that proved to be the difference in Montana’s 22-20 win over Marshall in the NCAA Division I-AA national championship game.

    I remember screaming something like “Brian Toone and Randy Riley from Butte, America” at one of the televisions at the Press Box, a sports bar and restaurant in Missoula.

    Butte fans reveled in the moment for weeks after the championship victory, but it seemed to largely be missed by so many other Griz fans.

    Actually, Toone and Riley never even got their name in the Missoula or Butte newspapers for the big play.

    So, fans remembered that Dave Dickenson bounced back from 10 sacks to lead the Grizzlies down the field after Marshall’s Chris Parker scored on a 26-yard run to put the Thundering Herd up 20-19 with 4 minutes, 45 seconds left in the game.

    Some can probably tell you that Super Dave completed 6 of 8 passes on the drive that led to a 25-yard field goal by Andy Larson with :39 seconds left.

    I remember one Griz fan screaming at the television as Larson lined up for the field goal.

    “Andy, if you miss this, I will kill you,” he yelled.

    Larson had a big playoff miss in the snow two years earlier. But he was money on this day, just like he was the year before in a playoff win over McNeese State.

    Some fans might even remember that Marshall kicker Tim Openlander attempted a 63-yard field goal, which came up way short as time expired.

    But not enough remember those two points by the former Butte High Bulldogs.

    They should.

    Dallas Neil, a Great Falls High product who was a really good high school basketball player and an OK golfer, booted a beautiful 51-yard punt to pin the Herd at their own 5-yard line to set it up. 

    On second and nine from the 6, Toone and Riley got to Marshall freshman quarterback Chad Pennington, who went on to be a Jets quarterback just like Brett Favre.

    Toone came up the middle to Pennington’s face, and Riley came past the left tackle to the quarterback’ backside.

    The quarterback got rid of the ball, but it was an obvious intentional grounding penalty that resulted in a safety. That put the Grizzlies on top 12-10 with 6:54 left in the third quarter.

    The box score, like the newspaper story, did not mention Toone or Riley for the great play. Instead, it read “Safety, Marshall’s Pennington grounds ball in end zone.”

    ESPN announcer Joel Meyers, though, was on top of the call.

    “Give those two points to Brian Toone and Randy Riley,” he said. “They were right in the face of the quarterback.”

    A year later, the duo from Butte was again a huge part of a Grizzly team that went to the national championship game to again play Marshall on the Thunder Herd’s home turf.

    This time, they saw freshman receiver Randy Moss catch nine passes for 220 yards and four touchdowns as the Herd beat the Grizzlies 49-29.

    Paffhausen’s 18-yard touchdown from Brian Ah Yat was the last score of the game. Toone and Riley each registered five total tackles.

    The plane ride home surely was not as fun as it was a year earlier, but the loss could not take away from all the great memories of the season.

    That it took a future NFL Hall of Fame player to beat the Grizzlies did not ruin the 14 wins that gave the Grizzlies a return trip to West Virginia.

    It could not erase those blowout home playoff victories.

    While the pain from the loss is probably still there some times, the players from the Grizzlies must still revel in the memories of that 1996 season, just like they did in 1995.

    To a man, you can bet every one of those players would tell the 2021-22 Bobcats the same thing.

    They will tell them to remember and celebrate the best season at Montana State in 37 years. They will tell them to soak it all up and feel good about the magical journey they just took their fans on.

    You better believe they will also tell the Bobcats that those 25 years went by faster than Brett Favre said.


— For more stories and columns from Bill Foley, go to, where you can also find Bruce Sayler and up-to-the-minute news on the Bulldogs, Maroons, Orediggers and more. Email him at

Toone and Riley would tell you Brett Favre was right

Butte Sports

  • b-facebook
bottom of page