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Montana receiver Jimmy Farris is hoisted in the air by teammates and fans in December 2000 after he made the winning catch against Appalachian State, sending the Griz to the national championship game.

This may shock some Griz fans, but Jimmy Farris has not been to Washington-Grizzly Stadium since his last game here.

Of course, for six of the next seven years, from 2001-07, he was on an NFL roster. Since his last season playing receiver with the Washington Redskins, he’s lived in Atlanta, where he played from 2002-04.

He’s tried his hand at television and athletic training, at singing and real estate, but recently found something he really likes: Farris was cast as the lead in a boxing movie called “The Prodigal Son,” which is in post-production and has a January release date.

So you can see, he’s been a very busy man.

Then again, how could he top that final game? Or for that matter, that final play – a 15-yard fade route in which he beat Appalachian State corner Corey Hall and hauled in a pass from Drew Miller.

It sealed a 19-16 overtime win for the Griz, putting them in the Division I Football Championship. It also set off bedlam: Farris ran across the end zone, dunked the ball over the cross bar, survived a dog pile, came back across the end zone on Monte’s four-wheeler, and soon after that was crowd-surfing.

“How ’bout that red-headed kid?” read a sign.

Nine years later, as the Griz get ready to play Appalachian State again Saturday, in the semifinals and in that same stadium, Farris can still appreciate that moment.

“It was such a perfect ball,” the 31-year-old said this week. “It was truly one of those slow-motion moments. What a beautiful time. There’s nothing that I’ve done in pro football or anything that comes close to that.”

Farris sort of fell to the Grizzlies, after being recruited by both Boise State and Idaho out of Lewiston, Idaho, in the fall of 1995.

“Montana was a place that, funny enough, doesn’t get a lot of pub or whatever in Idaho,” he said. “Idaho kind of jerked me around a little bit. They put a scholarship on the table and pulled it. I had a visit lined up and then they postponed it.”

His high school coach, Nick Menegas, who had seen former player Brad Lebo play quarterback for the Griz, pointed the way. Farris made a visit.

“I can tell you when it was – Weber State in October,” Farris says. “It’s so funny the things I remember. I remember watching the game and truly thinking to myself, ‘I can do this.’ I was watching Joe Douglass, Matt Wells, Dave Dickenson.

“I was standing in the tunnel after the game, and I thought, ‘A year from now I’m going to be running out of this tunnel. Man, I want to be at Montana.’ ”

The Griz won their first national championship that ’95 season, and he redshirted in 1996 when the Griz made it back to the title game and lost to Marshall. It took four years for the Griz to get back again, and when it happened Farris was front and center.

Starting with a three-catch, 118-yard, two-touchdown day against Portland State, the 6-foot speedster went on a tear. From there until the national championship, he had at least 96 receiving yards every game, and he caught at least one TD in each.

And he managed to turn it up a notch in the playoffs. In a time when postseason statistics didn’t count for season totals, he went off: 27 catches, 558 yards and five TDs in four games.

If Saturday’s rematch wasn’t enough of a reminder, there’s the fact that this year’s Griz team has a receiver in Marc Mariani who has put up freakishly similar numbers.

Farris has certainly noticed.

“I put something on his Facebook page,” Farris said. “I said, ‘Hey, dude, are you trying to outdo me, or what?’

“He already has, obviously.”

 

Farris caught as many passes against Appalachian State – seven, for 110 yards – as he did his entire NFL career. He had six of those catches with the Falcons in 2003. Two went for touchdowns.

He’s not complaining. His began his career on the 49ers’ practice squad, and then was scooped off it by the New England Patriots late in the 2001 season.

So he went to the Super Bowl, which the Patriots won.

“I was a spectator,” Farris said. “Which was still cool. I remember standing out there when they were doing the national anthem and really tried to soak in that moment: One year before, I was sitting in my apartment in Missoula, Montana, watching the Super Bowl on TV.

“I’d had a great season and all that, but was wondering if I’d ever see a down in the NFL. Now I’m standing at the Super Bowl.”

A year later, he was in Atlanta, a city he “pretty much fell in love with.” He moved to Washington in 2005, was out of football in 2006 and then played two more games with the Redskins in 2007.

He was in the NFL long enough to earn a pension, though he notes he won’t see it until he’s 60. He thought hard about trying has hands in the fledgling UFL, but eventually decided not to.

And about then, his phone buzzed.

“I get a random text that this director, Timothy Willis, is looking for athletic white guy to be in this boxing movie he’s making,” Farris said. “I thought I’d be an extra or something. It wasn’t really an audition – they were starting shooting in three days.

“They brought me in and I guess they liked the way I looked. I read for it, and they loved it and gave me the lead part.”

Farris hadn’t had acting lessons (he’s taking them now), but feels good about the project.

“I think it’s really good,” he said. “The story is great. It comes down to what they do with it in post-production.

“Unless I just suck, the rest of it is all there.”

He counts himself lucky. In five of his six seasons in the NFL, his teams made the playoffs. He became best friends with Seattle’s Shawn Springs and Buffalo’s Terrell Owens (Owens basically created Farris’ wardrobe. “Everything that didn’t fit him, he handed it down to me,” he said.) when both were in San Francisco.

Now he has this new venture.

“I’m a really passionate person,” Farris said. “And fortunately, I’ve been blessed that I haven’t had to do anything in my life that I didn’t really, really love.”

 

Farris watches the highlights from that last App State game and feels like he’s watching somebody else.

“I can watch the tape of me catching the ball and dunking it,” he said. “There are parts I remember seeing with my own eyes, but I’ve seen it so many times I sort of can’t put myself back in that spot.”

Yet he can remember the Richmond game from the week before, a 34-20 victory.

“We were pretty much blowing them out,” Farris recalled. “And one of the corners – at some point in the third quarter I went to block him and he didn’t even put up his hands. He had this look on his face and I was like, ‘Dude, are you all right?’

“He was like, ‘Man, I’m so cold, I just want to go home.’ ”

Years later, Farris understands.

“Those single digits? That’s why I live in the South,” he says. “Sometimes in my career, like when I was in Washington, we’d play a game in the 20s and I’d think, ‘How in the world did I play for five years and in playoff games when it was in single digits?’

“Every time I played in cold weather after that, I was like, ‘Wow. This is not a good look.’ ”

Last Saturday, Farris happened to find the Griz game on his TV. They were thumping Stephen F. Austin 51-0. The stadium had grown by 6,000 seats, and there was Sprinturf instead of the concrete-hard December grass, but a lot was the same.

“They showed the background, like Mount Sentinel,” Farris said. “And then I see Aber Hall, where I lived my freshman year, and then you see the trees and the river. What a magical place. Anybody who’s been there knows that, and anybody who hasn’t been there is missing out.

“That catch wouldn’t have been half as special if it’d happened at App State. It wouldn’t have been as cool.”

Farris gets a little emotional about returning to Missoula. He’d love to be in the stadium to watch the Griz take on the Mountaineers, and see Mariani doing what he once did.

The 180-pounder from Havre has 28 touchdowns; counting playoff games, Farris has 27. Montana lost to Richmond in last year’s  national title game; the Griz lost to Georgia Southern in 2000.

“I felt like I was at the beginning of what’s going on now, and that’s something that makes me really proud,” Farris said. “I speak for every Griz when I say this group makes you as proud as any.”

“I’m truly excited about what he (Mariani) is about to do,” he added. “It’s a thing you don’t realize until you’re gone; having three playoff games at home, and being able to play the last game possible at home? It’s magical up there, dude.”

Fritz Neighbor can be reached at 523-5247 or at fneighbor @missoulian.com.

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