SPOKANE, Wash. — Dave Dickenson prides himself on his storytelling ability, but the former Montana star quarterback felt overshadowed Saturday night.
Dickenson is one of 14 members of the inaugural Big Sky Conference Hall of Fame class, and he was one of eight to attend the Big Sky Hall of Fame banquet on Saturday at the Davenport Hotel Big. About an hour before Dickenson sat down for the last interview of the evening, Jan Stenerud almost stole the show.
The Big Sky inducted Stenerud for his outstanding skiing and football careers at Montana State in the 1960s. Ski jumping brought Stenerud to Bozeman from Norway, but kicking turned him into a legend.
Stenerud, 79, shared his remarkable football origin story several times on Saturday, along with his other favorite memories from his college and professional career. He caused smiles and laughter throughout the banquet ballroom during his induction interview with Big Sky’s Mariluz Cook.
Although arguably the most famous person at Saturday’s ceremony, Stenerud showed no sign of annoyance or exhaustion from the steady stream of admirers. It helps that he was inducted into another hall of fame amid a relaxing life in the two cities that made him immortal.
“I’m really proud and really humbled to be with this group,” Stenerud told 406mtsports.com on Sunday. “It’s almost difficult to find yourself deserving. It is a very important honor.
Stenerud played football as a child in Norway, but started focusing on skiing as a teenager. Ski jumping became his ticket to a college career in the United States, and MSU offered him a ski scholarship. When he became a Bobcat in 1962, he simply expected to compete for four years, train, and return to Norway.
One day in the fall of 1964, Stenerud ran the bleachers of MSU’s football field, named Gatton Field at the time, as part of his ski practice routine. MSU defensive back Dale Jackson was also there and he invited Stenerud down to the grass.
Jackson also kicked for the Cats and used a square kick technique. Stenerud showed Jackson how to kick with the side of his foot, like a football player. It was the first time in three or four years that Stenerud had kicked a ball, but all those years of football have created strong muscle memory. His right foot started the football with precision and power.
Roger Craft, then the MSU men’s basketball coach, passed Stenerud. Craft was so impressed that he told head football coach Jim Sweeney he should check out Stenerud. Sweeney, skeptical of the bona fides of a Norwegian skier, initially fired Craft. But Craft urged Sweeney again after seeing another impressive display of kicks from Stenerud. Sweeney decided to see for himself.
Stenerud was doing “light work”, as he recalled, the day before the last home football game of the 1964 season.
“I was running up the stadium steps, and I hear Sweeney yelling, ‘Hey skier’ – he didn’t know my name – ‘Put your butt here. I hear you can kick it,'” Stenerud said on Saturday “He liked what he saw and he asked me to get dressed for the pre-match warm-up the next day.”
Stenerud’s conference championship ski jumping career contributed to his inductions into MSU and the Big Sky Hall of Fame, but he rose to fame through football.
“It’s not weird,” he said. “I know American football is better known than ski jumping in this country.”
Stenerud scored a 59-yard field goal in a win over Montana in 1965, the longest kick in football history up to that point (Stenerud recalled with a smile, as smartphones took it) recorded, that it took MSU/local media a week to confirm it was a record). The following season, he set the NCAA record for kick scoring (82 points) and the Big Sky record for extra points (49).
Stenerud was also inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after 19 seasons in the NFL, including the first 14 with the Kansas City Chiefs. He helped the Chiefs win Super Bowl IV, and he “changed the strategy of professional football offenses with his ability to drive the ball, like a football player, with the side of his incredibly powerful right foot,” said said Bill Surface of the New York Times. written in 1971.
Stenerud retired in 1985 and lived in Bozeman from 1986 to 1988. He returned to Kansas City to work in marketing for an architectural firm that designs stadiums and arenas. He still resides in Kansas City, where he primarily plays golf and spends time with friends and his wife, Patty. Stenerud is also a member of the Kansas City Chiefs Ambassadors, a group of nearly 50 former Chiefs players who organize local fundraisers, scholarship programs and other charitable activities. He also makes occasional public appearances around the country.
“It sounds boring, but I’m not bored at all,” Stenerud said. “I feel like I’m quite busy.”
Stenerud often returns to Bozeman. He was there in March 2020 for the NCAA Ski Championships at the Bridger Bowl. This event has been canceled March 12 of that year as the COVID-19 pandemic began to disrupt life in the United States. Stenerud planned to be in Boise two days later for the Big Sky Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
The banquet ended up being postponed for 861 days. Stenerud didn’t care.
“I haven’t thought about it much,” he said. “I knew it was going to happen again.”
The wait allowed Stenerud to hone his storytelling skills. He spent more time with members of the media than necessary, discussing topics ranging from Super Bowl IV and his marketing work to his golf game and vacation to Bozeman through mid-August.
“I love Bozeman, Montana. I love Montana State,” Stenerud said. “I will always be a Bobcat.”
Among those who attended Saturday’s banquet was longtime professional and college football coach Dennis Erickson, who played quarterback and coached at MSU. During his interview with Cook, Stenerud noted that Erickson kept kicking him when they played with the Cats. Stenerud joked that Erickson has been missing a finger ever since.
Stenerud also saluted MSU athletic director Leon Costello, head football coach Brent Vigen, quarterback Tommy Mellott and defensive back Ty Okada, congratulating them on their performance as the Championship Subdivision runner-up. football 2021 (Vigen, Mellott and Okada represent the Cats at this weekend’s Big Sky Football kickoff). Earlier today, Stenerud regaled Mellott and Okada with his football origin story; one he had told countless times before, told the media later that day, and will tell countless times in the future with the same enthusiasm.
Who wouldn’t want to recount the moment they rose from nameless ski jumper to college and pro football hall of fame?