- Associated Press - Saturday, November 22, 2014

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) - He’s climbed these steps many times over the past 28 years, a stretch dating back to 1986 when Washington-Grizzly Stadium opened on the University of Montana campus.

But that wasn’t the beginning of Patrick Ryan’s job as the Grizzlies’ official scoreboard operator. That began at Dornblaser Field in 1976. Or maybe it was 1974, he isn’t sure which.

“When I first started, we were down at the old Dornblaser, where I ran the scoreboard,” said Ryan, who dressed in a Grizzlies’ jacket earlier this week to fend off the wind. “The controls were down on the track and we’d be sitting behind the visiting team, where I couldn’t see the ball.”

To compensate for the poor view, Ryan charged his son Paul to stand beside him and listen to the game on the radio. First and 10, second and three, third and one - whatever appeared on the scoreboard came off the radio.

“That’s the only way I could do it, with my son standing right next to me,” Ryan said. “We didn’t have a play clock back then. The equipment was pretty basic stuff.”

Ryan, who turns 75 next year, has operated the Grizzlies’ scoreboard for all but one game over the past 38 years. The game he missed was due to the baptism of his granddaughter in Poplar. He can’t remember who was playing, anyway.

Through September heat waves and November blizzards, the retired middle school teacher has rarely missed a beat, keeping the game honest from his perch high above the fans.

This has been Ryan’s last season.

“I thought about going until I was 75, but I didn’t want to end my career down in Bozeman,” said Ryan. “It’s just like teaching - you know when it’s time to walk away, just like Coach (Mick) Delaney.”

To put his time into perspective, Ryan has seen every one of the Grizzlies’ playoff seasons. He’s watched seven head coaches walk the sidelines, from Gene Carlson to Don Reed to Joe Glenn. He’s seen the likes of Dave Dickenson and Brian Ah Yat take snaps under center.

Ryan has also watched the program grow from its hardscrabble roots at the old football field that sat behind the men’s gymnasium. The field and the gym are now gone, but the memories of his days as a UM student back in the 1950s still linger.

“When I came to the university in 1958, it was enrollment of 3,000 students,” he said. “It was the first Cat-Griz game I ever saw. They had the fire hoses out. It was tough. From what it was then to what it is now, it’s big business, and it’s good for the city of Missoula.”

Ryan still fends off nerves before the game. He arrives two hours before kickoff and runs through the sequence, ensuring each button still works.

“I don’t know how to do any of the other stuff that happens up here in the booth,” he said. “I just know football. If a kick goes out of bounds, I know where to put it. I always compare this panel to me driving my car. I know how to drive, but if my transmission goes out, I’m done. If this ever had a problem, I don’t know how to fix it.”

While Ryan has attended all but that one home game for the past 38 years, he has rarely had a chance to really watch the game - fixating on the play-by-play placement of the ball doesn’t equate.

He remembers the 1995 season when the Grizzlies won their first NCAA Division I-AA championship, but only because his niece married Sean Goicoechea, who played for the Grizzlies around that time with his brother, Mike Goicoechea.

And while Ryan runs the scoreboard, there are days when he walks back across campus after the game not knowing the final score.

In a moment of thought, he points across the field to sections 225 and 125. He wouldn’t mind sitting there with his wife, not worrying about the scoreboard. The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this year and there are other things to do.

“Being married is day-to-day stuff,” he said, talking about longevity - his 50 years of marriage, 38 years running the clock and 32 years of teaching. “We have a plaque at our house that says marriages are made in heaven, but so are thunder and lightning.”

As for his career as an elementary school teacher, Ryan only missed two days - one because he severed his Achilles tendon.

Managing the clock, he said, isn’t unlike managing life. Sticking with it is an ethic he learned from his days working at the Anaconda smelter.

“When you grow up in Anaconda and work on the smelter, if you didn’t work a day, you didn’t get paid,” he said. “There was no such thing as sick days. My wife and I both subscribe to that, and that’s the attitude you had growing up in Anaconda.”

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Information from: Missoulian, https://www.missoulian.com


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