Four generations of Griz: King ‘never lost to a Cat’

Brawl of the Wild

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Patrick Cote/Daily Inter Lake Wednesday afternoon in Kalispell. Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012 in Kalispell, Montana.

At least two major things run in Jack King’s family: Banking and playing defense for the University of Montana football team.

The football lineage started a long time ago. Dean King, Jack’s father, played for the Griz before Germany invaded Belgium —  the first time.

Nearly 100 years later, Dean King’s great-grandson Joel Rosenberg won a national title in 2001 as part of a vaunted Griz defense under head coach Joe Glenn.

Dean King, Jack King, Ron Rosenberg and Joel Rosenberg round out a rich history of the Flathead family donning the maroon and silver (or, in some years, copper and gold).

Dean, whose father was the superintendent of the Kalispell School District, was part of the 1905 graduating class at Flathead High School.

When Jack graduated from Flathead in 1946, he had just finished a career as a talented running back and safety for the Braves. But at 150 pounds, he wasn’t heavily recruited.

“Eddie Chinske had been the coach of Sentinel High School,” King said. “He said, ‘I think you are too small to play college football, but I think you are the kind of guy who could make me a liar.”

King was invited to walk-on tryouts at UM. The end of World War II just months earlier meant even in Missoula, a glut of athleticism was to be had.  

Even after a good try-out, King felt defeated. He withdrew from school and returned to Kalispell. A few weeks later when he returned to Missoula “to follow a girlfriend,” some members of the team saw him walking down Higgins Avenue.

“They jumped at me and said the coach was looking for me,” King said. “When I showed back up to practice the coach burned the hell out of me.”

He had picked off the star quarterback three times in that spring try-out but didn’t think he made the cut.

The coach, Doug Fessenden, had him re-enroll immediately and join the junior varsity squad. Montana was in the Pacific Coast Conference at the time, playing against West Coast powerhouses such as Washington, USC and California. Winning was a rare luxury as Montana was “de-emphasizing athletics” in 1948.

King became a return specialist, bringing back nearly every punt and kickoff for three years. In that time, he had a few proud marks.

“I never lost to a Cat!” he said. “In football or track. I missed one game because I jumped into the wilderness.”

King, a smokejumper in the summer, had parachuted into the wilderness on the Idaho-Montana border to find a hunter.

“We jumped in Monday,” he said. “I thought we’d be done by the time the game came around. But we didn’t find him and I didn’t leave. Imagine if it was my father in the woods and some kid stopped looking for him because he was playing a game.”

He made it back to Missoula in time to get on the bus to Butte (where the Griz-Cat game was held that year) and caught guff from his coach.

King’s career ended the next year when he was caught off guard on a block and shredded his knee ligaments in a game against Oregon.

He went on to found Valley Bank and Three Rivers Bank in Kalispell, where many members of his family work.

Ron Rosenberg, his son-in-law and manager of Valley Bank, played for the Griz in the 1970s and was defensive MVP for the Big Sky Conference as a senior middle linebacker in 1974.

From the late 1950s to mid-1980s, Montana struggled against its in-state rival, going 9-22 against Montana State. Rosenberg’s tenure under head coach Jack Swarthout was no different.

A star at Whitefish High School, Rosenberg was able to keep up a strong rivalry between himself and highly touted running back Steve Kracher of Columbia Falls. Rosenberg went to Missoula and Kracher to Bozeman where he became one of the Bobcats’ all-time leading rushers.

“That rivalry became generational,” Rosenberg said. “After college he returned to coach at Columbia Falls in time for my son’s senior year at Whitefish. He returned a kickoff for a touchdown to beat the Wildcats. We still remain friends to this day.”

Although Rosenberg got his licks in on his friend at Montana State, the Griz results weren’t what he wanted.

“1971 was the only year we beat them,” he said. “Both schools were pretty marginal at this time.”

Both schools have since seen a rise in prominence, especially at Montana, where Ron Rosenberg’s son, Joel (assistant manager at Valley Bank) helped take the Griz twice to the national championship game, winning a defensive showdown 13-6 against Furman in 2001.

“It was a pretty easy choice to go to Montana,” the younger Rosenberg said in the understatement of the year. “My great-grandfather had been on their roster, my dad had season tickets and they recruited me. It was a done deal.”

He is humble about his time in Missoula, but the defensive back roamed the secondary with fellow Montana product Vince Huntsberger of Libby in the 2001 team’s signature lock-down defense.

“I had kind of a weird career,” Rosenberg said. “I started my first game eligible, and a team with four wide-outs, I’d play the whole game. Other days I’d sit out. It was week to week.”

The entire 2001 team was inducted into the Montana Hall of Fame last year.

Despite the national title, Rosenberg sheepishly admits it was his team in 2002 that ended “The Streak,” losing to Montana State for the first time in 16 years.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, all three men pick the Griz to win this year’s matchup, and will try to make it to Bozeman. Ron and Jack try to attend as many home games as they can, but Joel gets to games more rarely.

“I always hope that it comes down to this game for the Big Sky title,” Ron said. “I think the Grizzlies have a good shot, there’s enough on the line here to matter.”

Reporter Ryan Murray may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at rmurray@dailyinterlake.com.

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