The fulfilling final days of No. 90

I’ve talked in the past year about the challenges facing a standout from Boise State’s 1980 Division I-AA national championship team. Tight end Duane Dlouhy, who caught the winning touchdown in the Camellia Bowl to give the Broncos the national title over Eastern Kentucky, had Stage 4 colon cancer diagnosed just last summer. Dlouhy passed away yesterday afternoon. It hits like a ton of bricks, especially for those who were teammates of Duane at Boise State.

The story that needs to be told is how those players from 1980 made his final days special ones. Cornerback Mike Bradeson from that team has bile duct cancer. More than 20 of his and Dlouhy’s teammates, including coach Jim Criner, gathered just two weeks ago in Reno (where Bradeson lives and used to coach for Nevada) to rally around their stricken friends. The entire starting secondary was there: Bradeson, Rick Woods, Larry Alder and Jeff Turpin. The starting linebackers were, too: Ray Santucci, Ralph Esposito, Larry Lewis and Dan Williams. Quarterback Joe Aliotti gave a rousing speech to the group, honoring Dlouhy and Bradeson. Criner gave a very emotional one. Dlouhy e-mailed the attendees after the event and said, “Everyone: it was so uplifting having you all there.”

On the day of former Idaho great Wayne Walker’s memorial service in Boise, we mourn Dlouhy, who had been hospitalized at Saint Alphonsus. Several teammates joined him there last Thursday to watch the Broncos’ 1980 highlight film. Dlouhy was occasionally alert enough to point out specifics of plays from the season. Then Friday, his son Dustin became certified to perform a wedding ceremony. Duane’s daughter Demi was to be married July 1. She and her fiancée were in Dlouhy’s room last Friday for a special ceremony so that Duane could give his daughter away in marriage. He was able to say, “Her mother and I.” Alder circulated the No. 90 jersey Dlouhy wore when he caught the legendary TD and had it signed by as many members of the team as he could find—and got it up to St. Al’s yesterday.

Bradeson has hope. He’s gone through five rounds of chemotherapy and has one left. Then if his tests check out at the end of the month, he’ll head to Stanford Medical Center for radiation treatment. Bradeson had a key interception in Boise State’s 1980 playoff semifinal victory over Grambling on a deafening day in Bronco Stadium. He had spent the past seven years on the defensive staff at Nevada under Chris Ault and Brian Polian. Bradeson was diagnosed with cancer about a month before last season ended. When Polian was fired, all of his assistants were, too. But Wolf Pack athletic director Doug Knuth called Bradeson in and told him he’d still have a job in the athletic department. That allows Bradeson to retain his benefits as he continues his battle.

One moral of the reunion story this is what chemistry can do for a football team. The 1980 team had it in massive amounts, and it has lasted a lifetime. “The friendships and the relationships—they haven’t gone away,” said Alder. “Thanks for a great 3 days of fellowship and fun,” said Lewis. “What a great reminder of the bond we share. I’ve heard a number of teams call themselves a band of brothers—nobody displays that better than we do.” As a former head coach at Idaho State and a top assistant at Washington State, Colorado State, Nevada and Virginia, Lewis should have perspective on such team connections. The current Broncos need that, and hopefully they’re not that far away from having it.

How about that. Meridian’s Troy Merritt is going to play in his first US Open next week. The former Boise State star shot 67-66 yesterday—nine under par—to tie for second behind Steve Stricker at a Sectional Qualifier in Memphis. Merritt will be in the field a week from Thursday at Erin Hills in Wisconsin. His only other major was the 2015 PGA Championship. Current Bronco Brian Humphreys played the 36-hole Sectional yesterday at the Tacoma Golf and Country Club and was 10-over. Graham DeLaet will be watching next week. He’s feeling good after his tie for 10th in the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village, OH, over the weekend.

When Boise State does add its baseball program, here’s hoping Lewis-Clark State is on the schedule the first year. As the Broncos grow with Division I talent, there’ll be a disparity. But at least in the first season, the Warriors would be a really tough out—and it would be a great experience for Boise State to play them. Last Friday night in Lewiston, LCSC won its third straight NAIA World Series Championship with a 6-4 win over Faulkner University of Alabama. It was Lewis-Clark State’s 19th national title overall, 15 more than any other NAIA school can boast. The Warriors went into the tournament as the No. 5 seed. According to coach Jeremiah Robbins, “We never got into a rhythm. We were getting rained out left and right. It was just a weird season all the way around.” Weird enough to win it all again.

Boise State is working painstakingly on getting its football season tickets at least to last year’s level, which was 19,529. The Broncos would like to get back over 20,000—last season was their first time under that level in 10 years. Indications are momentum is in their favor. Let’s compare Boise State’s situation with that of Washington State. The Cougars have already surpassed last year’s June 1 season ticket total as they ride the hype surrounding quarterback Luke Falk’s senior campaign. So here are the numbers. Wazzu is currently at 13,800. It’s all-time record was set last year: 14,200. But that was an Apple Cup year, so this season represents a significant step forward. What it does tell us: Boise State really has nothing to be stressed about.

This Day In Sports…June 6, 1892, 125 years ago today:

One year after planting a now-famous oak tree on the grounds of the new Idaho Statehouse rescued by Boiseans a century later, Benjamin Harrison becomes the first incumbent President to attend a major league baseball game, as he watches Cincinnati beat Washington, 7-4. The oak? It just about died in the early 1990’s but was saved through a community effort. The beloved tree was finally taken out in 2007 when renovation of the Capitol building began.

(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra and anchors five sports segments each weekday on 93.1 FM KTIK. He also served as color commentator on KTVB’s telecasts of Boise State football for 14 seasons.)