Nineteen years after graduating from the University of Montana, Marty Mornhinweg and his wife were 30,000 feet up in the Big Sky following his first visit back to Missoula in two decades.
They were flying home to Philadelphia, where Marty had recently ascended to offensive coordinator of the NFL's Eagles. But Lindsay Mornhinweg couldn't stop thinking about the mountains, rivers and wide-open spaces.
"She said, 'That's where I want to be when we're done,'" Marty remembered this week ahead of Wednesday's "Celebrity Night in Missoula" benefiting the Destination Missoula Sports Commission.
That's how the greatest statistical quarterback in Grizzly history (pre-Dave Dickenson edition) got reacquainted with Montana. Nine years later the Mornhinwegs own a house just outside Missoula where they make their offseason home. It's where Marty stretches his legs before NFL training camp each year. Now the Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator, the former Griz is entering his 24th season as an NFL coach.
It was Lindsay who helped him find Montana again, but Larry Donovan was the man who brought Mornhinweg to Missoula in the first place.
Despite being a record-setting high school quarterback at San Jose's Oak Grove High in California, the bites from college recruiters were far between as a senior in 1979. Donovan, Montana's head coach, was among the few.
"I found out when I was coaching in college, it's hard to pull the trigger on a 5-(foot)-10 quarterback," joked Mornhinweg of his recruitment. "But Montana did."
And Griz fans were glad.
Mornhinweg nabbed the starting job as a true freshman, and as a junior led the Grizzlies to a Big Sky Conference championship and NCAA Division I-AA playoff berth in 1982. Unlike the decades to come, Big Sky titles were a rarity for Montana in that day. It was the Grizzlies' first in 11 years and only crown between 1970 and 1993.
During his four years of starting duty, Mornhinweg smashed nearly every passing record in Montana annals. When his playing days were over he owned 15 program marks -- and shared another -- including the career big five: touchdowns (38), yards (6,083), completions (488), attempts (832) and completion percentage (58.7).
All have been reset since, save one forgettable standard (single-season interceptions). Still, not bad for an era whose coach put the emphasis on defense.
"(Donovan) was more of a defensive-oriented football mind. So we went at it a time or two, but I enjoyed that," said Mornhinweg, adding that assistant coach Joe Glenn helped balance things out on offense.
Glenn, who would lead the Griz to their second national championship in 2001 as head coach, was in charge of the receivers and quarterbacks from 1980-85.
As Mornhinweg found while looking for a college playing home, taking the next step as an under-sized quarterback can be tough. He went undrafted out of Montana in 1985, opting to stick around Missoula and get his coaching start leading the receivers before going to graduate school at University of Texas-El Paso in 1986.
While serving as a graduate assistant with the Miners, Mornhinweg continued to pursue playing options. He was a short-lived "extra arm" in San Francisco 49ers camp before juggling collegiate coaching duties and a stint as Arena Football League QB for the Denver Dynamite in 1987.
That lasted only a few games though.
"I got my knee done in the Arena League, blew out my ACL," Mornhinweg said. "... That's about the time I (decided I) was going to coach for a long, long time instead of play."
Twenty years before having his ring finger fitted after Super Bowl XXXI, but before he ever set foot on Montana's old Dornblaser Field, Mornhinweg was learning the finer points of quarterbacking from a then-anonymous high school coach.
Mike Holmgren brought an intensity to his role as an assistant at Oak Grove High School in the late 70s, treating those practices much the same as he would one day as an NFL head coach.
He never forgot talent when he saw it. As Green Bay Packers head man in 1995, he hired his old student Mornhinweg as an offensive assistant.
"He grabbed me when I was 14, 15 and taught me how to play the quarterback position," Mornhinweg remembered. "Looking back on it once I got into coaching, jeez, I finally realized not everybody got coached like that."
A two-year stay in Green Bay was the beginning of Mornhinweg's quick rise through the NFL coaching ranks.
As Packers QB coach in 1996, he helped guide hall of famer Brett Favre to his second of three straight MVP awards as Green Bay ended a 29-year Super Bowl title drought. The 49ers then hired Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator, where he worked with another hall of famer Steve Young. That led to an ill-fated two-year gig -- "a half a cup of coffee" as he refers to it now -- as head coach of the Detroit Lions.
Favre and Young were the first two of many elite QBs Mornhinweg had the opportunity to mentor. The list also includes Jeff Garcia in San Francisco, Donovan McNabb in Philadelphia -- where Mornhinweg served from 2003-12 -- and most recently Joe Flacco in Baltimore.
Flacco is a 10th-year pro out of FCS Delaware, the 2008 NFL Rookie of the Year and Super Bowl XLVII champion and MVP.
Now with the Mornhinwegs' four children all out of high school, the longtime coach feels more open about his options for the future. Maybe he'll pursue another head coaching job, a chance to replace some sour memories of his time in Detroit.
His youngest son, Bobby Cade, is enrolling at San Diego in the fall while youngest daughter, Molly, is going into her senior year at dad's alma mater Montana. The eldest two children are high achievers as well: Skyler played quarterback and graduated from Columbia while Madi got her degree from fellow Ivy League institution Penn.
Now 55, Mornhinweg still has some good years in coaching ahead of him, but with the kids out of the house he does find his mind wandering to what comes next. And the scenery and way of life that once made his wife fall in love again.
He may never leave coaching, though, even if it's at the prep level someday in Missoula.
"When I'm done one of these days I'll probably still help out at some high school -- if they'll have me," Mornhinweg waxed. "I couldn't imagine not coaching."